Archive for July, 2011

In case any potluck or lifestyle vegan (in)activist does not understand, this new commercial promoting McDondalds burgers in China should make it clear of how powerful the forces of carnism set to convert the world’s largest state population into American-style meat addicts.


A Major Sign of Immanent Apocalptic Disaster (as if anyone not in Vegan Lala Land could not have predicted this):

“The fast food wars in China are fierce. In a country where Colonel Sanders is more omnipresent than Mao, McDonald’s has some serious competition. That’s why within the next four years, McDonald’s plans to open a new outlet daily in China. By 2013, McDonald’s hopes to add 700 outlets to its already existing 1,300.

The chain isn’t exactly dragging its feet in the meantime — it currently opens a new restaurant every other day. In order to achieve such massive growth, McDonald’s wants to focus more on franchising in China. Although 75% of McDonald’s worldwide are owned by franchisees, only six stores in China are franchised.

McDonald’s has been planning its Chinese expansion for some time, but the rate at which it plans to open stores is somewhat staggering. There are about 3,200 KFC stores in China, so even with McDonald’s ambitious growth plans, catching up to the Colonel remains a daunting challenge.”

The GOOD NEWS is that I am sure we can reverse this minor setback and win the war against carnism and capitalism if we just hand out some more leaflets and organize more vegan potlucks!!

Steve Best

I. Mutation on the Mind

“Strange as it may seem to the unscientific reader, there can be no denying that … the manufacture of monsters — and perhaps even of quasi-human monsters — is well within the possibilities of vivisection.” H.G. Wells

Everywhere in popular culture, one finds deep-rooted anxieties about science, technology, and the fate of the human. Thus, in films such as Blade Runner, The Fly, Jurassic Park, Species, Godzilla, Deep Blue Sea, Gattaca, Mimic, Terminator, Johnny Mnemonic, and X-Men as well as in TV shows like Prey, Millennium, and The X-Files, the focus is on biological mutations, experiments gone awry, the creation of monstrosities, and technoscience run amuck.

Such media texts are responding to a chemically saturated, increasingly synthetic, global warming world that has produced mutant frogs, encephalitic babies, lower sperm counts in men, and diseased and diminished human beings affected by environmental chemicals that mimic their hormones and disrupt biological processes, and skyrocketing cancer rates. They also articulate fears of a powerful technoscience developed without restraint in the service of profit, capital, and global corporate hegemony.

Already, science has genetically engineered cows, pigs, and chickens to grow as large and fast as possible for maximal profits for agribusiness; it has “pharmed” (pharmaceutical farming) nonhuman animals (modified with human genes) to exploit them as therapeutic drug factories; bred pigs with human genes to warehouse stocks of transplantable organs; and genetically altered most food crops.

And as the genetic revolution brings about new possibilities for transcending vivisection altogether, it also has fueled greater demand for “experimental animals,” thus ensuring that an antiquated 17th century mechanistic model (dualistic, control-oriented, and atomistic) continues to thrive in the 21st century despite holistic paradigm shifts, preventative health care, scientific support for veganism, and a plethora of viable “alternatives” to the costly, ineffective, and appallingly violent and cruel methods of research and testing through vivisection.[i]

II. Science Fiction and the Literary “Breakthroughs” of H.G. Wells

“Once intelligent beings achieve technology and the capacity for self-destruction of their species, the selective advantage of intelligences becomes more uncertain.” Carl Sagan

One great writer caught these changes in his perceptual traps well before they happened, and that was H.G. Wells (1866-1946). A prolific writer of novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction, Wells praised the wonders of science and technology, mostly in his non-fiction, but also sketched out potential horrors in his science-fiction writings. While he frequently championed science and technology as great vehicles of progress, he also provided prescient warnings of their dangers and potential misuse. Wells delivered what Isaac Asimov called the “science-fiction breakthrough” by portraying the extreme ruptures with past modes of life driven by science and technology. Pursuing the “what if” logic of modern science fiction to new dimensions, Wells envisioned how science and technology could transgress the “laws” of nature and create biological mutations and entirely new species from disparate materials, resulting in terrible and unforeseeable consequences.

The changes soon to be effected in nature and humanity were anticipated in classics such as The Time Machine (1895), in which Wells portrayed humans mutating into new species and transcending the boundaries of space and time. In a ruthlessly negative vision, Wells depicts a terrifying future for humanity, involving not only the entropic collapse of civilization, but the demise of the earth itself, devoured in the red hot fireball of an exploding sun. In Well’s dystopia, the Time Traveler discovers that humanity is sharply divided between species/classes in the year AD 802,701. In his division of humanity into two warring species, the Eloi and the Morlocks, both descendants of contemporary humanity, Wells warns that an irrational organization of society can produce monstrous results. The Eloi are hyper-refined and decadent and live aboveground, while the Morlocks are crude and degenerate, and inhabit the underworld. The brutalization of the Morlochs allegorizes the outcome of a life of alienated labor, while the Eloi represent the results of excessively passive consumption and leisure.

There is thus a Marxist subtext to the story: unless exploitation stops and the division of a class society is overcome, the human species faces disastrous dichotomization, discord, and decline. But Wells goes on to imagine how sharp differences in class could create different species and forms of (post)human being. Indeed, the new eugenics seeking enhancements of the human mind and body is a luxury affordable only by the elite, and, as dramatized in the film Gattaca, social disparities can lead to biological disparities if genetic enhancement is a luxury affordable only by the rich, and new forms of genetic discrimination operate alongside the ugly prejudices of the past.

The Time Machine also articulates a critique of the Enlightenment notion of progress. Wells’ Time Traveler “thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind and saw the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its maker in the end.” Time travel in Wells’ allegory is itself a metaphor for vision into the future of evolution and a warning that human species could fall prey to catastrophe rather than build ever new and better engines of progress. Here Wells demonstrates how science fiction can serve as the critical conscious of science and provide powerful challenges to the delusions and propaganda of science, by calling into question the idea that change means progress and science is always progressive.

In Food of the Gods (1904), Wells vividly portrays the possibility of destructive consequences of genetically modified food and, more generally, a culture based on unrestrained growth imperatives. The novel tells the tale of two scientists who with good intentions create “boomer” food that promotes growth processes in nature. To their horror, the technology runs amuck as everything from vegetation and insects to rats and human babies consume the food and grow to monstrous proportions.

Wells not only offers a warning about tampering with food and metabolic processes for allegedly benign purposes — such as genetically engineered “golden rice” touted today as the miracle panacea for human hunger — he also ridicules the myopia of scientists who live in “monastic seclusion” from their social world and therefore easily conjure up misguided and dangerous schemes – themes he pursued first in The Island of Dr. Moreau. The novel dramatizes a severe process of “genetic pollution” whereby the altered crops had migrated beyond the “Experimental Farm” and entered the food chain in less than a year before its first trials. Wells thereby anticipates a key problem with genetic engineering today, such as the lack of adequate testing procedures and the rushing of genetically altered substances onto the market, or the horrible and unnecessary abuse of nonhuman animals.[ii]

As if scripted by Wells’ dystopian vision, today geneticists working for corporations such as “Metamorphix” have found a way to manipulate the genes that regulate the metabolism and growth of nonhuman animals, and consequently have exploited this knowledge not for profound and noble aims, but to advance corporate hegemony and profits by producing giant chickens, sheep, pigs, and other species consumed by a fast growing world population of carnivores. In a way faithful to current implementation of such revolutionary changes, which proceed with virtually no government oversight, Wells underscores “the general laxity of method that prevailed at the Experimental Farm.”  Moreover, he prefigures “a public so glutted with novelty” that it largely ignores the momentous consequences of scientific and technological developments, a depressing phenomenon that became increasingly obvious over the 20th century with the advancement of mass media, advertising, shopping malls, gadgetry, and spectacles of all kinds.

While he observes the beauty and improved features of the giant children, Wells largely portrays the new food technology as “distorting the whole order of natural life … it swept over boundaries and turned the world of trade into a world of catastrophes.”Allegorizing emerging global economic conditions, the novel concludes on a pessimistic note of a globe given over to the imperatives of endless growth and the ceaseless conflicts capitalism generates, as humans attempt to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of technologies that control them, rather than they being masters of their own creations.

On this dystopian scenario, insects will rise up against us, the plant world will strangle us, and fish in the sea will destroy our ships. Soon, Wells imagines, only gigantism will reign, and all things of small scale will perish -­ including humans! Much as some today see genetic engineering as creating a new line of evolution within the human species, Wells’ scenario forecasts a world where the food creates a “new race” such that a cleavage opens up between the little and gigantic groups. Allegorizing emerging global economic conditions, the novel concludes on a pessimistic note of a world given over to the imperatives of endless growth and ceaseless conflict as humans attempt to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions o technologies that control them — rather than humans becoming masters of their technologies.

III. Wells’ Critique of Vivisection and Mechanistic Science

“Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research.” George Bernard Shaw

“The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen.” Claude Bernard

Without doubt, one of Wells’ most important anticipations of coming ruptures in life processes is The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896).This prescient novel is a powerful protest against the self-proclaimed right of science to experiment on nonhuman animals, subjugating and exploiting them for human purposes, as it recklessly speeds down the path of engineering new life forms. This novel, as well, critiques dangerous utopian visions of “human perfection,” such as Marxist revolutionaries and proponents of eugenics – from early formulations in the late 19th and 20th century up to the “new eugenics” of the present – have championed. Further, it is a profound meditation on the psychic conflicts tearing apart humanity in the struggle to adapt to rapidly changing conditions with a mindset still tethered to its ancient primate past however “modern” or “advanced” its technological conditions.

Hardly a sanguine vision of modern science, The Island of Dr. Moreau dramatizes what may happen when science recklessly tampers with genetics and evolution, thereby disturbing intricate natural processes and relations that have evolved over billions of years, of which science understands little or nothing. Wells calls attention to technical methods and abstract knowledge that produces monsters not medicine; he reveals the will to power that informs “objective,” and “value-free” knowing, and the malignant mindset that drives vivisectors toward ever more killing, unconscionable cruelties, and habitual ignorance and arrogance.

Forced to relocate his barbaric experiments to a remote Pacific island when exposed by a journalist, as Huntington Life Sciences today have scurried from the UK to the US and Asia and attempted to hide from the damning revelations of seven separate exposes, Moreau obsessively and tenaciously advances his project to create new life forms, to become a Grand Manipulator, an omniscient and omnipotent God, whatever the cost in terms of suffering and death he inflicts on the nonhuman animals locked in cages. Moreau describes his island chambers as a “kind of Bluebeard’s chamber,” an apt phrase for vivisection laboratories everywhere whose hallways echo with the shrieks of brutalized beings victimized by the only animal capable of sadistic torture and rationalizing evil.

Moreau’s words also eerily invoke the macabre statement of 19th century vivisector champion, Claude Bernard, who wrote, “The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen,” by traversing, that is, the torment, bloodshed, and death that is vivisection. While Bernard articulates here in florid form what contemporary scientists more prosaically refer to as a “necessary evil,” it is interesting to note that he implies vivisection is only a transitional stage in the development of science. Yet considering the campaigns of pro-vivisection groups such as Pro-Test, Speaking of Research, and Americans for Medical Progress, we see the vivisection industry tenaciously clinging to old models and adamantly resisting change, and this is largely because the money is locked in the models of the past, and the industry favors its financial interests over advances in science, medicine, and human well-being.

Upon arriving at the island, hapless traveler Edward Prendrick hears cries from the “House of Pain.” Wells reminds us of the agony endured by the victims of vivisection, and what an abominable, detestable, and barbaric practice modern experimental research has been and remains. The prevailing image of an obscure and distant island symbolizes the isolation of science from the public and the practice of vivisection in the unmarked and secured buildings that hide the horrors of nonhuman animal torture from critical scrutiny and help shield pseudo-science from effective regulation, meaningful oversight, and conditions of openness and “transparency.”

But once behind the walls of secrecy, Prendrick sees and hears all that is closed to the public; only through undercover investigations is the true world of the vivisector revealed to the public, rather than the lies and professional propaganda disseminated to a gullible populace. And every time an activist penetrates the thick walls that shield and protect vivisectors from scrutiny or accountability, the same habitual practices of neglect and cruelty are revealed, refuting the lies and obfuscating rhetoric of “welfare” and the obfuscation that government, oversight committees, and (in the US) the Animal Welfare Act ensure that scientists provide “care” for their coerced captives. The entire smoke and mirror act of welfarism, regardless, only reinforces the myth that any level of captivity, confinement, isolation, body invasion, terrorism, torture, and cutting, burning, maiming, and sickening other sentient beings is somehow “humane,” “responsible,” or acceptable by any society that has climbed out of the morass of barbarism and does not confuse the dressings and trappings of technology with moral evolution and genuine civilization.

Corporate and university laboratories are unmarked, hidden, and guarded for good reason. Just as if slaughterhouses had glass walls, the population of vegetarians would swell, so if laboratories were translucent and revealed the truth of their “care” and the fraud called “science,” a formidable mass of people would rise in outrage to demand an end to this charade, the immediate cessation of wasting taxpayer money on this travesty, a full scale investigation into corporate greed and government collusion, and a radically new vision for health and medicine. The dark, hidden, secret, and virtually unregulated world of vivisection cannot survive the light of truth, and so, like cockroaches, researchers and functionaries slither and scurry into their dark clandestine compounds and gloomy guarded fortresses. The image of an island is thus a perfect metaphor for vivisection, for whether in the basements of universities or behind the barbed wired walls of corporate research centers, vivisectors seek as much secrecy and distance from the public as possible.

Wells not only gave voice to growing protests against vivisection during the nineteenth century and after in England, the US, and other Western states, he anticipated the logical extension of the atrocities of vivisection in the 20th century, as the fictional crimes of Dr. Moreau progressed into the real horrors of Dr. Mengele and Nazi genocide. Speaking through the voice of a critically awaked Prendrick, Wells raises the terrible question: “could the vivisection of men be possible?” Wells clearly understands that experimentation on nonhuman animals – contemptible in itself and evil on its own – is but a step toward experimentation on human animals; it is the inevitable progression of Western pathologies and the unchecked modernist will to power that subjects all living beings to the dictates of the needle, scalpel, and microscope.

We know now — through Auschwitz; the Tuskegee, Alabama experiments that withheld penicillin treatment from 399 black men infected with syphilis; the intentional infection of mentally retarded children with hepatitis-B by doctors at Willowbrook State Hospital in Staten Island; government-directed radiation experiments on unwitting Americans to assess the effect of radioactivity on the human body; and countless cases of “volunteers” for medical “research” who were not informed of the serious risks they were taking — that the answer to Prendrick’s agonizing question is affirmative. Well’s position seems not to be the speciesist axiom that the “superior” status of humans justifies unlimited suffering and killing of other animals, but rather that a culture which dispenses violence and death to other animals will inevitably turn its weapons against itself.

With his sympathies and conscience still intact, unlike the human automatons re-engineered through years of “scientific training,” Prendrick recoils in horror upon seeing the sundry “Beast Folk” engineered by Moreau. He beholds a grotesque menagerie of transgenic freaks that include mixtures of hyena and swine, ape and goat, bear and bull, and horse and rhinoceros. Wells’ portrait of a veritable surrealist zoo of creatures remarkably anticipates our own era of genetic reconstruction, in which scientists have created potatoes with chicken and sheep genes; tomatoes with antifreeze genes from fish; glow-in-the-dark tobacco plants spliced with firefly genes; and pigs bred with human genes.

As if nonhuman animals do not already suffer enough, with billions confined, tortured, and butchered in the laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses of the world, the Western corporate-science complex is now “pharming” an array of animal-human composites for their blood, milk, and organs. The obscene violence of intensive confinement of chickens, pigs, and cattle in the factory farming system grow even worse with genetic modification techniques used to maximize and accelerate growth processes and thus to expand profit margins. Not surprisingly, this unprecedented level of interference in the natural growth processes of nonhuman animals produced monstrosities, such as cows with massive udders, turkeys too top-heavy to mate, and chickens afflicted with a painful “rapid muscling” condition that impedes their ability to walk.[iii]

From Frankenfields to brave new barnyards, scientists have spawned a cornucopia of transgenic species. Experiments with human-animal hybrids grown in Petri dishes suggests the possibility of creating humanimals in the manner of Dr. Moreau. As scientists have already created anomalies such as self-shearing sheep and broiler chickens with fewer feathers, some macabre visionaries foresee engineering pigs and chickens with flesh that is tender or easy to microwave, and wingless chickens that won’t require bigger cages. The next step would be to just create and replicate animals’ torsos – minimalistic organ sacks — and dispense with superfluous heads and limbs. In fact, scientists have already created headless embryos of mice and frogs in grotesque manifestations of the kinds of life they can now construct at will.

Prendrick sees the hybrid creations as humans devolved into animals, but Moreau informs him that in fact they are animals he is trying to elevate into humans. Within each hybrid there is a constant battle between instinct and morality, desire and reason; their struggle mirrors that of humanity which, despite varying social-institutional forms and its self-scribed essence as “wise” or “rational,” cannot evolve beyond the primitive urges of hatred, violence, killing, war, genocide, and social hierarchy.

In an uncanny anticipation of xenotransplantation and genetic engineering, Wells, speaking through Moreau, imagines that “it is a possible thing to transplant tissue from one part of an animal to another or from one animal to another, to alter its chemical reactions and methods of growth, to modify the articulation of its limbs, and indeed to change it in its most intimate structure.” Yet, every time Moreau’s chimeras seem to verge toward “triumphs of vivisection,” they revert to brute violence and chaos. Despite the intense social conditioning that Moreau believes nullify any possibility of disobedience, the Beast Folk regularly break his rules, rebel ever more boldly, and ultimately kill their despised creator.

The intractable and autonomous Beast Folk are vivid reminders of the limits of modernist schemes of prediction and control. Wells exposes the fallacies of mechanistic science and the Cartesian-Baconian paradigm, which stem from control fantasies, alienation and arrogance, and atomistic thinking. Consequently, vivisection is a massive error, fallacy, and obstacle to genuine knowledge, sustained by careerism, cowardice, inertia, dearth of imagination, hollow rationalizations about “necessary evil,” and the profits of the vivisection and pharmaceutical industries, including breeders, suppliers, and a huge supporting network of businesses from insurance to cleaning. The vast and variegated global vivisection complex serves the master of profit, not the principle of truth, and knows quite well that the money is in treating the symptoms of disease, not curing it once and for all.

In our own social context, Moreau is embodied in the global vivisection complex (and the complicit FDA) and citizens are the Beast Folk, the experimental “animals” of elite corporations and bureaucracies of specialized knowledge. Given significant differences in physiology, metabolism, and reaction to drugs, and the appallingly high failure rate (often causing serious injury or death) of drugs “tested safe on animals,” it is  clear that everyone who takes prescription medicines and who eats non-organic food is a subject of a vast experiment corporations, scientists, and government impose on citizens without public debate and informed consent, such as may easily have unknown, long-term, and unforeseeable negative effects on health. In this sense, there is no island on which science is practiced apart from society, for the mindset, influence, and consequences of technoscience, vivisection, and corporate research spreads throughout the pores and interstices of society, into our homes and bodies.[iv]

IV. The Campus of Dr. Jentsch

“They apply to humans the same formulas and findings that, without restraint, they force from defenseless animals in their nauseating physiological laboratories… Reason, mercilessly advancing, belongs to man. The animal, from which he draws his bloody conclusion, knows only irrational terror and the urge to make an escape from which he is cut off.” Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

Upon encountering the shock of “the strangest beings” he has ever seen, Prendrick realizes that the island “is full of inimical phenomena” and he condemns Moreau as a “lunatic” and “ugly devil.” He concludes that Dr. Moreau – like Mary Shelly’s character, Dr. Frankenstein — “was so irresponsible, so utterly careless. His curiosity, his mad, aimless investigations, drove him on.”

Moreau, of course, has a different image of himself, as indeed do all white coat mercenaries and tenured sadists reaping the lucrative rewards of corporate caches and taxpayer booty. Like capitalists, scientists view the world as exploitable resources, and thus view nonhuman animals as nothing but commodities, things, data generators for publication, and mere means to human ends. Although Moreau has perfected the art of scientific detachment, and is exquisitely indifferent to the pain he inflicts on his victims, he imagines himself — in the bad faith of all vivisectors — as a benefactor to the world, as one who is trying to realize his vision of a perfect humanity to be achieved through rapid biological manipulation rather than the social and educational practices that span generations.

For twenty years, Moreau devoted himself “to the study of the plasticity of living forms.” Rejecting any belief that nature and species boundaries are fixed, he seeks to “conquer” nature, to bend it to his will, to become God-like in his power to design species, while admitting that he has “never troubled himself about the ethics of the matter.” Nothing today could better summarize the mentality of the scientific establishment trained to detach facts from values, research from ethics, feelings from reason, science from public scrutiny and concerns.

Wells’ Dr. Moreau, like Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein, is sketched not so much as an individual as a general type or syndrome that is rampant in science, and far more so today than the last two centuries when Wells and Shelly wrote their novels.[v] One contemporary individual that these authors would have no trouble identifying as a manifestation of the Frankenstein or Moreauvian syndrome is Dr. J. David Jentsch, a UCLA vivisector and gung-ho  leader of the US Pro-Test” movement. Originating in the UK in 2006, the Pro-Test movement mobilized to counter animal rights arguments “disinformation” with the “true facts” regarding the indispensible role of vivisection in the past, present, and future of medical progress.[vi]

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters. Jentsch’s bizarre, sinister, alien, metrosexual, gothy, insect-like, mutant posthuman look — his stretched Gladwrap face and altered eyebrows appropriate for an OC housewife, circus master, Addams Family cast, Star Trek set, bit player (perhaps star!) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but somewhat odd for an aging vivisector — is a remarkable symbolization of the monstrous nature of vivisection. Modified, amplified, distorted, enhanced, unnaturally twisted, bent, and shaped, Dr. Jentsch is the face of vivisection, the perfect spokesmen and poster boy for a vast, shadowy, sinewy, sinister multibillion dollar industry that inflicts pain, terror, and torture on millions of innocent nonhuman animals equal to human animals in their capacity to suffer psychologically and physically. Jentsch emphatically embodies an industry that breeds, boxes, and buys sentient beings from Charles River Laboratory (the so-called “General Motors of the laboratory animal industry”) catalogues as if they were blocks of wood. Whether captured from the wild, bought under false pretence from homes or shelters, or bred as slaves, monkeys, dogs, cats, mice, rats, and rabbits are cast into a living nightmare and terrifying hell where menacing figures in white coats bring pain without compassion and death without remorse.

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters.

Jentsch is the real deal; he doesn’t just play a vivisector on TV, he is a card-carrying, bona fide, board certified purveyor of pain; he doesn’t only theorize about vivisection, he practices it and sickens and kills with his own hands. Jentsch’s profound contributions to medicine and humanity stem from his efforts to “model certain aspects of schizophrenia” in monkeys, addict them to cocaine “to produce both selective deficits in cognitive functions,” and, for variety, he exposes rats to THC and amphetamines to manipulate “attentional impairments.” And still more nonhuman animals are subjected to Jentsch’s Moreauvian whims as he champions “the usefulness of PCP (also known as “ketamine” or “angel dust”) administration” to produce “symptoms of schizophrenia,” and continues his quest to addict primates to drugs that elicit psychotic reactions, ”particularly schizophrenia.” Like many or even most scientific publications, these studies take common sense ideas or deductions that could be stated a priori, dress them up with inscrutable scientific jargon, and convert them into publishable profundities that allegedly warrant more taxpayer money for more senseless suffering and depressing death.

With Dario Ringach and other UCLA Pro-Test colleagues, Jentsch slices and dices throughout the day, ensconced within his campus compound, safe from animal rights “thugs” and “terrorists.”.[vii] Like most scientists who wield life and death power over helpless innocents and brandish a license to kill, Jentsch’s arrogance blocks awareness of his own hypocrisy. Unlike Jentsch who tortures and kills for a living, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) strictly abides by a code of nonviolence and attacks property, never people, using sabotage as a tactic to weaken or shut down exploiters and oppressors who profit from the misery of others. Like the Underground Railroad of the 19th century, the ALF frees captive slaves, secures them food and medical treatment, and transports them +to new homes.[viii] In the topsy-turvy outlook of speciesism, ethical property destruction is terrorism but torture and murder of innocents – their just deserts for the crime of being nonhuman and inferior – is laudable and the service to humanity merits accolades of the highest order. History is likely to make a different judgment.

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters, a process that begins with training in “objective” methods and the schizophrenic detachment of reason from emotion, facts from values. Curiosity pursued “for its own sake” is severed from ethical ideals as the drive for knowledge is its own justification and legitimation, no matter what unconscionable horrors are inflicted on innocent victims.

But the romantic individualism implied here is long obsolete, a causality of the commodification of knowledge and corporatization of academia. In the reign of advanced capitalism, science is pursued for the sake of grant money, profits, bureaucratic requirements, career ambitions, and the profits of the global vivisection complex. Whereas science driven by curiosity is foreboding enough, science powered by capital, contracts, and corporations is terrifying as “facts” become commodities, “truth” can be shaped to any agenda or purpose, and scientists are often bound to confidential agreements that prohibit them from divulging information that contradicts the desired corporate narrative they were hired to shape. The pressure of grants, tenure, and promotion ensure no one wanting a long term career step out of line to question corporate influence or policies of the state, and the indentured servitude of professors and sometimes entire departments to oil, agriculture, timber, and pharmaceutical corporations turns knowledge into a bar-coded commodity, prostitutes the ideals of the academy and the integrity of knowledge, and relegates universities to utilitarian functions within the academic-military-industrial complex.

V. The Time Machine of Visionary Fiction Critique

“Human history has become more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” H.G. Wells

As we move into a new millennium fraught with terror and danger, a global postmodern condition is unfolding in the midst of rapid evolutionary and social changes co-constructed by science, technology, and global capital. We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more shaped by computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful technoscience. In this context, science is no longer merely an interpretation of the natural and social worlds, rather it has become an active force in changing them and the very nature of life. In an era where life can be created and redesigned in a Petri dish, where species boundaries are transgressed at will, and genetic codes can be edited like a digital text, the boundaries between reality/unreality, natural/artificial, inorganic/organic, biology/technology, human/machine, and the born and the made are disappearing as all life ­- from bacteria and plants to nonhuman animals and human animals ­- is being reconstructed, commodified, and patented in a “second Genesis.”

Ultimately, the titans of technoscience intend to seize the reins of evolution and redesign – to “improve” – the human genome. They want to maximize the transformations, optimize the pace of change, and minimize public involvement and government regulation. To justify their island-like distance from society, they insist that only elites and experts can be in the driver’s seat, that the public must trust them completely, that their goals are purely altruistic, that they will bring progress and happiness to all, and that everything is safe and under control.

Amidst the vertigo of increasingly rapid and profound mutation, the lines between the future and present blur, as technological visions quickly become reality, unleashing waves of change that engulf existing forms of life, washing them away toward new, unknown destinations with unpredictable effects that could be liberating or destructive, depending on the extent to which human beings can envisage their double potential and shape them through democratic practices toward progressive ends. This very much is a public, democratic, and participatory matter. It demands our full attention, awareness, and engagement, and requires replacing the isolation of science from citizenry with a mutual critical dialogue designed to achieve goals of democracy, justice, and ecology.

But the injustice of human exploiting human and the grotesquely uneven effects of development within US society and between so-called developed and undeveloped worlds cannot be renounced only to replicate far worse injustices and forms of oppression in our relations to other sentient species. From a consistent ethical standpoint not vitiated by arbitrary bias in favor of our own species, we cannot enslave, butcher, and murder countless millions of lives to advance our own purposes, especially when these interests are best advanced by overcoming speciesism and carnivorism, advancing aggressive education campaigns about preventative heath and benefits of veganism, and healing our alienation from the surrounding world.

Our contemporary era, with all its strange novelties, demands new visions and new maps to survey the bizarre terrain. These must be not only empirical and sociological mappings, but also fictional and literary representations to startle the imagination into adequately grasping nova such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, cloning, and xenotransplantation. Perhaps no one demonstrates more clearly than H.G. Wells the fallacy of separating science fiction from earthly and social affairs. Science fiction works can anticipate new modes of being and illuminate the present through presenting ways of seeing that provide concrete embodiment to the abstractions of science and theory. They can also present the practical and human consequences of inventions, technologies, and scientific breakthroughs.

The Island of Dr. Moreau deserves to be re-read in the current context of an ongoing biotech revolution in which many developments he anticipated have become real, while the mentality of science is much the same. The novel is a powerful critique of technology out-of-control, of unethical usages of “objective” science, of scientists without perspective or humanity, and of frightening mutations to come. Wells demonstrates how science fiction can serve as the critical conscience of science and provide powerful challenges to the delusions and propaganda of technoscience. Wells severs the equation of growth and change with progress, and calls into question rationalizations for cruelty, violence, killing, and domination as “necessary” for medical advance. Like the Cartesian view of animals scientists generally hold, vivisection is an obsolete research and testing model that ultimately impedes scientific progress, just as surely as it prevents the substantive moral and social progress necessary for an advanced technological society to be viable and sustainable.


[1]  For detailed analysis of the modern and postmodern paradigm shifts in science, see Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, The Postmodern Turn (Guilford Press, 1997) and The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium (Guilford Press, 2001).

 [ii] According to recent USDA estimates, 55% of soybeans, 35% of corn crops, 80% of processed foods, and 60-75% of nonorganic food in US supermarkets are genetically modified. With the firm support of US “regulatory” agencies, genetically modified corn, soybeans, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cotton, and dozens of other crops have been planted across one fourth of US cropland, brought to supermarkets unlabelled, and imported to other countries. Four dozen genetically modified foods cultivated over 90 million acres of land turn up in a wide array of items, from tofu to tortillas, from canola oil to corn chips, from potatoes to protein powder, from breads to beer, and from syrups to salad dressings. And none are labeled as genetically altered for, according to FDA, this would be “alarmist,” “impractical,” and “confusing” to the consumer since they declared GMFs safe. This violates their own policy which requires that substances added to foods be identified and which prohibits “false or misleading” labeling.

 [iii] On the genetic modification and cloning of nonhuman animals, see Steven Best, “Genetic Engineering, Animal Exploitation, and the Challenge for Democracy,” in Leonardo’s Choice: Genetic Technologies and Animals (ed. Carol Gigliotti), Springer Press, 2009.

[iv] See Fran Hawthorne, Inside the FDA: The Business and Politics Behind the Drugs We Take and the Food We Eat. Wiley Publishers, 2005.

[v] On Shelly’s ever-timely novel and the specific type of scientific mindset she was criticizing, see Best, and Kellner “The Frankenstein Syndrome,” in The Postmodern Adventure.

[vi] On the origins of the Pro-Test movement in the UK and US, see, wttp://, and

[vii] Biomedexperts “Research Profile” of J. David Jentsch (experiments, theories, publications):

[viii] On the history, ethics, politics, and tactics of the Animal Liberation Front, see Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II (eds.), Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. Lantern Books, 2006.

We’re in this war, fighting omnicidal maniacs, trying to stop an escalating Holocaust, for the animals. This is serious shit, time to get clear on commitments and priorities, and no time for holding signs, having potlucks, or fucking around in any war; we must be ready to face any challenge, confrontation, or consequence, or you’re a Cuisinart narcissist and pacifst poser.

I respect many activists today, some in jail, some not, some dead, most alive. We’ve lost soldiers in this war, such as environmental and animal rights activists (mostly UK) like Mike Hill (killed in 1991), Tom Worby (killed in 1993), David Chain, and Jill Phelps (killed in 1995), all intentionally murdered by hunters, lorry drivers, and loggers. Nor can I forget the sacrifice and bravery of Barry Horne, who in 2001 died in a hunger strike, nor the fortitude of Dian Fossey, killed in 1985 for her implacable defense of gorillas against murderous poachers in conditions of real war.

But I typically find courage and inspiration in looking back on the life-threatening risks taken daily by the Freedom Riders in 1961 and the leaders of the civil rights and Black Liberation movement. I’m in constant danger of losing my job for speaking out unequivocally for militant animal liberation and radical social change, but I am not in danger of losing my life. Is anyone? I doubt it. Death threats and hate mail are a joke; we are not yet threatening enough to pose a serious threat and make this a two-sided war.

When the day comes than hundreds, thousands of us have to risk our lives to protect animals, and do, then we will have reached the level of struggle attained by the civil rights and Black Liberation movement in the 1960s, to name just two bold, no-compromising movements of the past few decades. And I should mention Brazilian rainforest activist, Chico Mendez, killed in 1988 by ranching, mining, and agricultural thugs; Ken Saro Wiwa, murdered in 1995 with 2,000 others in retaliation by the Nigerian government for challenging the hegemony of Shell Oil.

There are countless thousands of others risked and lost their lives amidst constant conditions of danger, so put your fear of being stopped by the FBI, arrested, or hassled in perspective, and live with boldness not timidity. The day our lives are at risk, is the day the animal and earth liberation struggles have been elevated to a higher plane and turn a largely uncontested Holocaust into a real war of resistance.

It is a day and season of my life I hope comes soon and I will relish, emboldened by the heroism and martyrs I from all walks of live who died on their feet and didn’t cower on their knees.

King hit it right on the head: “If a [person] hasn’t found something for which they will die, they are not fit to live.”

I would never die for Country, the Flag, and phony wars of corporate imperialism. But I would die for the earth,  the animals, and the comrades on the fronts lines.

Once you overcome fear, you are free, totally free.

Need inspiration? Watch this.Lose your fear:

Recent interview with Vegan World Radio, talking about the failures of the vegan movement, the spike in global meat consumption, my ban from the UK, and animal standpoint theory.

Anyone who thinks that things will move slowly is being very naive. – Lee Silver, Molecular Biologist

As we move into a new millennium fraught with terror and danger, a global postmodern condition is unfolding in the midst of rapid evolutionary and social changes co-constructed by science, technology, and the restructuring of global capital. We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more mediated and shaped by computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful emergent techno-science. In this global context, science is no longer merely an interpretation of the natural and social worlds; rather it has become an active force in changing them and the very nature of life. In an era where life can be created and redesigned in a petridish, and genetic codes can be edited like a digital text, the distinction between ‘‘natural’’ and ‘‘artificial’’ has become greatly complexified. The new techniques of manipulation call into question existing definitions of life and death, demand a rethinking of fundamental notions of ethics and moral value, and pose unique challenges for democracy.

As techno-science develops by leaps and bounds, and as genetics rapidly advances, the science–industrial complex has come to a point where it is creating new transgenic species and is rushing toward a posthuman culture that unfolds in the increasingly intimate merging of technology and biology. The posthuman involves both new conceptions of the ‘‘human’’in an age of information and communication, and new modes of existence, as flesh merges with steel, circuitry, and genes from other species. Exploiting more animals than ever before, techno-science intensifies research and experimentation into human cloning.  This process is accelerated because genetic engineering and cloning are developed for commercial purposes, anticipating enormous profits on the horizon for the biotech industry. Consequently, all natural reality—from microorganisms and plants to animals and human beings—is subject to genetic reconstruction in a commodified ‘‘Second Genesis.’’

At present, the issues of cloning and biotechnology are being heatedly debated in the halls of science, in political circles, among religious communities, throughout academia, and more broadly in the media and public spheres. Not surprisingly, the discourses on biotechnology are polarized. Defenders of biotechnology extol its potential to increase food production and quality, and to cure diseases, endow us with ‘‘improved’’ human traits, and prolong human life.  Its critics claim that genetic engineering of food will produce Frankenfoods, which pollute the food supply with potentially harmful products that could devastate the environment, biodiversity, and human life itself; that animal and human cloning will breed monstrosities; that a dangerous new eugenics is on the horizon; and that the manipulation of embryonic stem cells violates the principle of respect for life and destroys a bona fide ‘‘human being.’’

Interestingly, the same dichotomies that have polarized information-technology discourses into one-sided technophobic and technophillic positions are reproduced in debates over biotechnology. Just as I believe that critical theories of technology are needed to produce more dialectical perspectives that distinguish between positive and negative aspects and effects of information technology (Best and Kellner 2001), so too I would claim that similar approaches are required to articulate the potentially beneficial and perhaps destructive aspects of biotechnology. Indeed, current debates over cloning and stem cell research suggest powerful contradictions and ambiguities in these phenomena that render one-sided positions superficial and dangerous. Parallels and similar complexities in communication and biotechnology are not surprising given that information technology provides the infrastructure to biotechnology that has been constituted by computer-mediated technologies involved in the Human Genome Project, and, conversely, genetic science is being used to push the power and speed of computers through phenomena such as ‘‘gene chips.’’

As the debates over cloning and stem cell research indicate, issues raised by biotechnology combine research into the genetic sciences, perspectives and contexts articulated by the social sciences, and the ethical and anthropological concerns of philosophy. Consequently, I argue that intervening in the debates over biotechnology require supra disciplinary critical philosophy and social theory to illuminate the problems and their stakes. In addition, debates over cloning and stem cell research raise exceptionally important challenges to bioethics and a democratic politics of communication. Biotechnology is thus a critical flashpoint for ethics and democratic theory and practice. Contemporary biotechnology underscores the need for more widespread knowledge of important scientific issues; participatory debate over science, technology, values, and our very concept of human life; and regulation concerning new developments in the biosciences, which have such high economic, political, and social consequences.

New genetic technologies like stem cell research contain positive potential for medical advances that should not be blocked by problematic conservative positions. Nonetheless, I believe that the entire realm of biotechnology is fraught with dangers and problems that require careful study and democratic debate.  The emerging genomic sciences should thus be undertaken by scientists with a keen sense of responsibility and accountability, and be subject to intense public scrutiny and open discussion. Finally, in the light of the dangers and potentially deadly consequences of biotechnology, I maintain that the positive potential of biotechnology can be realized only in a new context of cultivating new sensibilities toward nature, engaging in ethical and political debate, and participating in political struggles over biotechnology and its effects.


1 Brave new barnyard: the advent of animal cloning

The idea is to arrive at the ideal animal and repeatedly copy it exactly as it is.– Dr. Mark  Hardy

From its entrenched standpoint of unqualified human superiority, science, typically first targets objects of nature and animals with its analytic gaze and instruments. The current momentous turn toward cloning is largely undertaken by way of animals, although some scientists have already directly focused on cloning human beings. While genetic engineering creates new ‘‘transgenic’’ species by inserting the gene from one species into another, cloning replicates cells to produce identical copies of a host organism by inserting its DNA into an enucleated egg. In a potent combination, genetic engineering and cloning technologies are used together in order, first, to custom design a transgenic animal to suit the needs of science and industry (the distinction is irrevocably blurred) and, second, to mass reproduce the hybrid creation endlessly for profitable peddling in medical and agricultural markets.

Cloning is a return to asexual reproduction and bypasses the caprice of the genetic lottery and random shuffling of genes. It dispenses with the need to inject a gene into thousands of newly fertilized eggs to get a successful result. Rather, much as the printing press replaced the scribe, cloning allows mass reproduction of a devised type, and thus opens genetic engineering to vast commercial possibilities.  Life science companies are poised to make billions of dollars in profits, as numerous organizations, universities, and corporations move toward cloning animals and human stem cells, and patenting the methods and results of their research.

To date, science has engineered a myriad of transgenic animals and has cloned animals such as sheep, calves, goats, bulls, pigs, mice, and cats. Although still far from precise, cloning nevertheless has become routine. What is radically new and startling is not cloning itself, since from 1952 scientists have replicated organisms from embryonic cells. Rather, the new techniques of cloning, or ‘‘nuclear somatic transfer,’’ from adult mammal body cells constitute a new form of animal reproduction. These methods accomplish what scientists long considered impossible—reverting adult (specialized) cells to their original (nonspecialized) embryonic state where they can be reprogrammed to form a new organism. In effect, this startling process creates the identical twin of the adult that provided the original donor cell. This technique was used first to create Dolly, the first mammal cloned from a cell from an adult animal, and subsequently all of her varied offspring.


 2 Dolly and her progeny

Traditionally, scientists considered cloning beyond the reach of human ingenuity.  But when Ian Wilmut and his associates from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, announced their earth-shattering discovery in March 1997, the ‘‘impossible’’ appeared in the form of a sheep named Dolly, and a ‘‘natural law’’ had been broken. Dolly’s donor cells came from a 6-year-old Finn Dorset Ewe. Wilmut starved mammary cells in a low-nutrient tissue culture where they became quiescent and subject to reprogramming. He then removed the nucleus containing genetic material from an unfertilized egg cell of a second sheep, a Scottish Blackface, and, in a nice Frankenstein touch, fused the two cells with a spark of electricity. After 277 failed attempts, the resulting embryo was then implanted into a third sheep, a surrogate mother who gave birth to Dolly in July 1996.

Many critics said Dolly was either not a real clone or was just a fluke. Yet, less than 2 years after Dolly’s emergence, scientists had cloned numerous species, including mice, pigs, cows, and goats, and had even made clones of clones of clones, producing genetic simulacra in mass batches as in 1931 Huxley (1989a) envisioned happening to human beings in Brave New World. The commercial possibilities of cloning animals were dramatic and obvious for all to behold. The race was on to patent novel cloning technologies and the transgenic offspring they would engender.

Animals are being designed and bred as living drug and organ factories, as their bodies are disrupted, refashioned, and mutilated to benefit meat and dairy industries. Genetic engineering is employed in biomedical research by infecting animals with diseases that become a part of their genetic make up and are transmitted to their offspring, as in the case of researchers trying to replicate the effects of cystic fibrosis in sheep. Most infamously, Harvard University, with funding from Du Pont, has patented a mouse—OncoMouse —that has human cancer genes built into its genetic make up and are expressed in its offspring (Haraway 1997).

In the booming industry of ‘‘pharming’’ (pharmaceutical farming), animals are genetically modified to secrete therapeutic proteins and medicines in their milk. The first major breakthrough came in January 1998, when Genzyme Transgenics created transgenic cattle named George and Charlie. The result of splicing human genes and bovine cells, they were cloned to make milk that contains human proteins such as the blood-clotting factor needed by hemophiliacs.  Co-creator James Robl said, ‘‘I look at this as being a major step toward the commercialization of this [cloning] technology.’’1 In early January 2002, the biotech company PPL announced that they had just cloned a litter of pigs, which could aid in human organ transplants. On the eve of the publication of an article by another company, Immerge Bio Therapeutics claimed that they had achieved a similar breakthrough.2 The new process involved creation of the first ‘‘knockout’’ pigs, in which a single gene in pig DNA is deleted to eliminate a protein that is present in pigs, which is usually violently rejected by the human immune system. This meant that a big step could be made in the merging of humans and animals, and creating animals as harvest-machines for human organs.

Strolling through the Brave New Barnyard, one can find incredible beings that appear normal, but in fact are genetic satyrs and chimera. Cows generate lactoferrin, a human protein useful for treating infections. Goats manufacture antithrombin III, a human protein that can prevent blood clotting, and serum albumin, which regulates the transfer of fluids in the body. Sheep produce alpha antitrypsin, a drug used to treat cystic fibrosis. Pigs secrete phytase, a bacterial protein that enables them to emit less of the pollutant phosphorous in their manure, and chickens make lysozyme, an antibiotic, in their eggs to keep their own infections down.

‘‘BioSteel’’ presents an example of the bizarre wonders of genetic technology that points to the erasure of boundaries between animate and inanimate matter, as well as among different species. In producing this substance, scientists have implanted a spider gene into goats, so that their milk produces a super-strong material—BioSteel—that can be used for bulletproof vests, medical supplies, and aerospace and engineering projects. In order to produce vast quantities of BioSteel, Nexia Biotechnologies intend to house thousands of goats in 15 weapons-storage buildings, confining them in small holding pens.3

As we see, animals are genetically engineered and cloned to produce a stock of organs for human transplants. Given the severe shortage of human organs, thousands of patients every year languish and die before they can receive a healthy kidney, liver, or heart. Rather than encouraging preventative medicine and finding ways to encourage more organ donations, medical science has turned to xeno-transplantation, and has begun breeding herds of animals (with pigs as a favored medium) to be used as organ sources for human transplantation.

Clearly, this is a very hazardous enterprise due to the possibility of animal viruses causing new plagues and diseases in the human population (a danger which exists also in pharmaceutical milk). For many scientists, however, the main concern is that the human body rejects animal organs as foreign and destroys them within minutes. Researchers seek to overcome this problem by genetically modifying the donor organ so that they knock out markers in pig cells and add genes that make their protein surfaces identical to those in humans.

Geneticists envision cloning entire herds of altered pigs and other transgenic animals so that an inexhaustible warehouse of organs and tissues would be available for human use. In the process of conducting experiments such as transplanting pig hearts modified with a human gene into the bodies of monkeys, companies such as Imutran have caused horrific suffering, with no evident value to be gained given the crucial differences among species and introducing the danger of new diseases into human populations.4

As if billions of animals were not already exploited enough in laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses, genetic engineering and cloning exacerbate the killing and pain with new institutions of confinement and bodily invasion that demand billions of more captive bodies. Whereas genetic and cloning technologies in the cases described at least have the potential to benefit human beings, they have also been appropriated by the meat and dairy industries for purposes of increased profit through the exploitation of animals and biotechnology.  It’s the nightmarish materialization of the H.G. Wells scenario where, in his prophetic 1904 novel The Food of the Gods, scientists invent a substance that prompts every living being that consumes it to grow to gargantuan proportions (Best and Kellner 2001). Having located the genes responsible for regulating growth and metabolism, university and corporate researchers immediately exploited this knowledge for profit. Thus, for the glories of carcinogenic carnivorous consumption, corporations such as MetaMorphix and Cape Aquaculture Technologies have created giant pigs, sheep, cattle, lobsters, and fish that grow faster and larger than the limits set by evolution.

Amidst the surreality of Wellsian gigantism, cattle and dairy industries are engineering and cloning designer animals that are larger, leaner, and fastergrowing value producers. With synthetic chemicals and DNA alteration, pharmers can produce pigs that mature twice as fast and provide at least twice the normal amount of sows per litter as they eat 25% less feed, and cows that produce at least 40% more milk. Since 1997, at least one country, Japan, has sold cloned beef to its citizens.5 But there is strong reason to believe that U.S.  consumers—already a nation of guinea pigs in their consumption of genetically modified foods—have eaten cloned meat and dairy products. For years, corporations have cloned farmed animals with the express purpose of someday introducing them to the market, and insiders claim many already have been consumed.6 The National Institute of Science and Technology has provided two companies, Origen Therapeutics of California, and Embrex of North Carolina,with almost $5 million to fund research into factory farming billions of cloned chickens for consumption.7 With the Food and Drug Administration pondering whether to regulate cloned meat and dairy products, it’s a good bet they are many steps behind an industry determined to increase their profits through biotechnology. The future to come seems to be one of cloned humans eating cloned animals.

While anomalies such as self-shearing sheep and broiler chickens with fewer feathers have already been assembled, some macabre visionaries foresee engineering pigs and chickens with flesh that is tender or can be easily microwaved, and chickens that are wingless so they won’t need bigger cages. The next step would be to just create and replicate animal’s torsos—sheer organ sacks—and dispense with superfluous heads and limbs. In fact, scientists have already created headless embryos of mice and frogs in grotesque manifestations of the kinds of life they can now construct at will.

Clearly, there is nothing genetic engineers will not do to alter or clone an animal. Transgenic ‘‘artist’’  duardo Kac, for instance, commissioned scientists at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in France to create Alba, a rabbit that carries a fluorescent protein from a jellyfish and thus glows in the dark. This experiment enabled Mr. Kac to demonstrate his supremely erudite postmodern thesis that ‘”genetic engineering [is] in a social context in which the relationship between the private and public spheres are negotiated.’’8

Although millions of healthy animals are euthanized every year in U.S. animal ‘‘shelters,’’ corporations are working to clone domestic animals, either to bring them back from the dead, or to prevent them from ‘‘dying’’ (such as in the Missyplicity Project, initiated by the wealthy ‘‘owners’’ of a dog who want to keep her alive indefinitely).9 Despite alternatives to coping with allergies problems and the dangers with cloning animals, Transgenic Pets LLC is working to create transgenic cats that are allergen-free.10 In 2002, the biotechnology company Genetic Savings and Clone showcased the world’s first cloned cat, named CC, for Carbon Copy. Pandering to animal guardians’ misconceived desires to immortalize their cat, for a price of $50,000 each, Genetic Savings since has cloned additional cats, and hopes to cash in on what could be a booming market in feline simulacra at great risk for health problems and premature aging.

3 Transgenic travesties

The agricultural use of genetics and cloning has produced horrible monstrosities.  Transgenic animals often are born deformed and suffer from fatal bleeding disorders, arthritis, tumors, stomach ailments, kidney disease, diabetes, inability to nurse and reproduce, behavioral and metabolic disturbances, high mortality rates, and large offspring syndrome. In order to genetically engineer animals for maximal weight and profit, a Maryland team of scientists created the infamous ‘‘Beltway pig’’ afflicted with arthritis, deformities, and respiratory disease. Cows engineered with bovine growth hormone (rBGH) have mastitis, hoof and leg maladies, reproductive problems, numerous abnormalities, and die prematurely.  Giant supermice endure tumors, damage to internal organs, and shorter life spans. Numerous animals born from cloning are missing internal organs such as hearts and kidneys. A Maine lab specialized in breeding sick and abnormal mice that go by names such as Fathead, Fidget, Hairless, Dumpy, and Greasy.

Similarly, experiments in the genetic engineering of salmon have led to rapid growth and various rations and deformities, with some growing up to ten times their normal body weight (see Fox 1999). Cloned cows are ten times more likely to be unhealthy as their natural counterparts. After 3 years of efforts to clone monkeys, Dr. Tanja Dominko fled in horror from her well-funded Oregon laboratory. Telling  cautionary tales of the ‘‘gallery of horrors’’ she experienced, Dominko said that 300 attempts at cloning monkeys produced nothing but freakishly abnormal embryos that contained cells either without chromosomes or with up to nine nuclei.11

For Dominko, a ‘‘successful’’ clone like Dolly is the exception, not the rule.  But even Dolly became inexplicably overweight and arthritic, and may have been prematurely aging. In February 2003, suffering from progressive lung disease, poor Dolly was euthanized by her ‘‘creators,’’ bringing to a premature end the first experiment with adult animal cloning and raising questions concerning its ethics.

A report from argues that genes are disrupted when cultured in a lab, and this explains why so many cloned animals die or are grossly abnormal. On this account, it is not the cloning or IVF process that is at cause, but the culturing of the stem cells in the lab, creating major difficulties in cloning since so far there is no way around cloning through cultured cells in laboratory conditions.

A team of U.S. scientists at the MIT Whitehead Institute examined 38 cloned mice and learned that even clones which look healthy suffer genetic maladies, as mice cloned from embryonic stem cells had abnormalities in the placenta, kidneys, heart, and liver. Scientists feared that the defective gene functioning in clones could, wreak havoc with organs and trigger foul-ups in the brain later in life and that embryonic stem cells are highly unstable.13‘‘There are almost no normal clones,’’ study author and MIT biology professor Rudolf Jaenisch, explained. Jaenisch claims that only 1%–5% of all cloned animals survive, and even those that survive to birth often have severe abnormalities and die prematurely.14

As I argue below, these risks make human cloning a deeply problematic undertaking. Pro-cloning researchers claim that the ‘‘glitches’’ in animal cloning eventually can be worked out. In January 2001, for example, researchers at Texas A&M University and the Roslin Institute claimed to have discovered a gene that causes abnormally large cloned fetuses, a discovery they believe will allow them to predict and prevent this type of mutation. It is conceivable science someday will work out the kinks, but for many critics this assumes that science can master what arguably are inherent uncertainties and unpredictable variables in the expression of genes in a developing organism. A recent study showed that some mouse clones seem to develop normally until an age the equivalent of 30 years for a human being; then there is a spurt of growth and they suddenly become obese.15 Mark Westhusin, a cloning expert at Texas A&M, points out that the problem is not that of genetic mutation, but of ‘‘genetic expression,’’ such that genes are inherently unstable and unpredictable in their functioning.  Another report indicates that a few misplaced carbon atoms can lead to cloning failures.16 Thus, as suggested by chaos theory, small errors in the cloning process could lead to huge disasters, and the prevention of all such ‘‘small errors’’ seems to presume something close to omniscience.

Yet, while most scientists are opposed to cloning human beings (rather than stem cells), and decry it as ‘‘unacceptable,’’ few condemn the suffering caused to animals or position animal cloning research itself as morally problematic, and many scientists aggressively defend animal cloning. Quite callously and arbitrarily, for example, Jaenisch proclaims, ‘‘You can dispose of these animals, but tell me—what do you do with abnormal humans?’’17The attitude that animals are disposable resources or commodities rather than subjects of a life with inherent value and rights is a good indication of the problems inherent in the mechanistic science that still prevails and a symptom of callousness toward human life that worries conservatives.

Despite the claims of its champions, the genetic engineering of animals is a radical departure from natural evolution and traditional forms of animal breeding. Genetic engineering involves manipulation of genes rather than whole organisms.Moreover, scientists engineer change at unprecedented rates, and can create novel beings across species boundaries that previously were unbridgeable.  Ours is a world where cloned calves and sheep carry human genes, human embryo cells are merged with enucleated cows’ eggs, monkeys, and rabbits are bred with jellyfish DNA, a surrogate horse gives birth to a zebra, a dairy cow spawns an endangered gaur, and tiger cubs emerge from the womb of an ordinary housecat.

The ability to clone a desired genetic type brings the animal kingdom into entirely new avenues of exploitation and commercialization. From the new scientific perspective, animals are framed as genetic information that can be edited, transposed, and copied endlessly. Pharming and xenotransplantation build on the system of factory farming that dates from the postwar period and is based on the confinement and intensive management of animals within enclosed buildings that are prison-houses of suffering.

The proclivity of the science-industrial complex to instrumentalize animals as nothing but resources for human use and profit intensifies in an era in which genetic engineering and cloning are perceived as a source of immense profit and power. Still confined for maximal control, animals are no longer seen as whole species, but rather as fragments of genetic information to be manipulated for any purpose. Weighty ethical and ecological concerns in the new modes of animal appropriation are largely ignored, as animals are still framed in the 17th century Cartesian worldview that sees them as non-sentient machines. As Rifkin (1998,35) puts it, ‘‘Reducing the animal kingdom to customized, mass-produced replications of specific genotypes is the final articulation of the mechanistic, industrial frame of mind. A world where all life is transformed into engineering  standards and made to conform to market values is a dystopian nightmare, and needs to be opposed by every caring and compassionate human being who believes in the intrinsic value of life.’’18

Patenting of genetically modified animals has become a huge industry for multinational corporations and chemical companies. The PPL Therapeutics, Genzyme Transgenics, Advanced Cell Technology, and other enterprises are issuing broad patent claims on methods of cloning non-human animals. The PPL Therapeutics, the company that ‘‘invented’’ Dolly, has applied for the patents and agricultural rights to the production of all genetically altered mammals that could secrete therapeutic proteins in their milk. Nexia Biotechnologies obtained exclusive rights to all results from spider silk research. Patent number 4,736,866 was granted to Du Pont for Oncomouse, which the Patent Office described as a new ‘‘composition of matter.’’ Infigen holds a U.S. patent for activating human egg division through any means (mechanical, chemical, or otherwise) in the cloning process.

Certainly, genetics does not augur solely negative developments for animals. Given the reality of dramatic species extinction and loss of biodiversity, scientists are collecting the sperm and eggs of endangered species like the giant panda in order to preserve them in a ‘‘frozen zoo,’’ such as exists as San Diego Zoo. It is indeed exciting to ponder the possibilities of a Jurassic Park scenario of reconstructing extinct species (as, for example, scientists recently have uncovered the well-preserved remains of a Tasmanian tiger and a woolly mammoth). In October 2001, European scientists cloned a seemingly healthy mouflon lamb, a  member of an endangered species of sheep. In April 2003, ACT produced the  first successful interspecies clone when a dairy cow gave birth to a pair of bantengs, a species of wild cattle, cloned from an animal that died over 20 years ago. One of the pair, however, was thereafter euthanized because it was born twice the normal size and was suffering. Currently, working with preserved  tissue samples, ACT is working to bring back from extinction the last bucardo mountain goat, which was killed by a falling tree in January 2000.19

But critics dismiss these efforts as a misguided search for a technofix that distracts focus from the real problem of preserving habitat and biodiversity.  Even if animals could be cloned, there is no way to replicate habitats lost forever to chainsaws, bulldozers and invading human armies. Moreover, the behaviors of cloned animals would unavoidably be altered and they would end up in zoos or exploitative entertainment settings, where they exist as spectacle and simulacra.  Animals raised through interspecies cloning such as the gaur produced by ACT will not have the same disposition as if raised by their own species and so, for other reasons will not be less than ‘‘real.’’ Additionally, there is the likelihood that genetic engineering and cloning would aggravate biodiversity loss to the extent it creates monolithic super breeds that could crowd out other species or be easily wiped out by disease. There is also great potential for ecological disaster when new beings enter an environment, and genetically modified organisms are especially unpredictable in their behavior and effects.

Still, cloning may prove a valuable tool in preserving what can be salvaged from the current extinction crisis. Moreover, advances in genetics also may bypass and obviate pharming and xenotransplantation through use of stem cell technologies that clone human cells, tissues, or perhaps even entire organs and limbs from human embryos or an individual’s own cells. Successful stem cell technologies could eliminate at once the problem of immune rejection and the need for animals. There is also the intriguing possibility of developing medicines and vaccines in plants, rather than animals, thus producing a safer source of pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals and sparing animals’ tremendous suffering.  None of these promises, however, brighten the dark cloud cloning casts over the animal kingdom, or dispel the dangers of the dramatic alteration of agriculture and human life.

4 Deferring the brave new world: challenges for ethics and democracy

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. – H.G. Wells

By summer of 2001, a technical and esoteric debate over stem cells, confined within the scientific community during the past years, had moved to the headlines to become the forefront of the ongoing science wars—battles over the cultural, ethical, and political implications of science. The scientific debate over stem cell research in large part is a disguised culture war, and conservatives, liberals, and radicals have all jumped into the fray. Coming from a perspective of critical theory and radical democratic politics, I reject conservative theologies and argue against conflations of religion and the state. Likewise, I question neoliberal acceptance of corporate capitalism and underscore the implications of the privatization of research and the monopolization of knowledge and patents by huge biotech corporations. In addition, I urge a deeper level of public participation in science debates than do conservatives or liberals and believe that the public can be adequately educated to have meaningful and intelligent input into technical issues such as cloning and stem cell research that have tremendous human and ethical implications.

As I have shown, numerous issues are at stake in the debate over cloning, having to do not only with science, but also with religion, politics, economics, democracy, ethics, and the meaning and nature of human beings, and all life forms as they undergo a process of genetic reconstruction. Thus, my goal throughout this paper has been to question the validity of the cloning project, particularly within the context of a global capitalist economy and its profit imperative, a modernist paradigm of reductionism, and a Western sensibility organized around the concept of the domination of nature. Until science is recontextualized within a new holistic paradigm informed by a respect for living processes, by democratic decision making, and by a new ethic toward nature, the genetic sciences on the whole are in the hands of those governed by the imperatives of profit. Moreover, politicians beholden to corporate interests have no grasp of the momentous issues involved, requiring that those interested in democratic politics and progressive social change must educate and involve themselves in the science and politics of biotechnology.

We have already entered a new stage of the postmodern adventure in which animal cloning is highly advanced and human cloning is on the horizon, if not now underway. Perhaps little human clones are already emerging, with failures being discarded, as were the reportedly hundreds of botched attempts to create Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, in 1978. At this stage, human cloning is indefensible in the light of the possibility of monstrosities, dangers to the mother, burdens to society, failure to reach a consensus on the viability and desirability of cloning humans, and the lack of compelling reasons to warrant this fateful move. The case is much different, however, for therapeutic cloning, which is incredibly promising and offers new hope for curing numerous debilitating diseases. But even stem cell research, and the cloning of human embryos is problematic, in part because it is the logical first step toward reproductive cloning and mass production of desired types, which unavoidably brings about new (genetic) hierarchies and modes of discrimination.

We thus need to discuss the numerous issues involved in the shift to a posthuman, postbiological mode of existence where the boundaries between our bodies and technologies begin to erode as we morph toward a cyborg state. Our technologies are no longer extensions of our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan stated, but rather are intimately merging with our bodies, as we implode with other species through the genetic crossings of transgenic species. In an era of rapid flux, our genotypes, phenotypes, and identities are all mutating. Under the pressure of new philosophies and technological change, the humanist mode of understanding the self as a centered, rational subject has transformed into new paradigms of communication and intersubjectivity (Hayles 1999) and information and cybernetics (Habermas 1979, 1984, 1987).

Despite these shifts, it is imperative that elements of the modern enlightenment tradition be retained, as it is simultaneously radicalized. Now more than ever, as science embarks on the incredible project of manipulating atoms and genes through nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and cloning, its awesome powers must be measured and tempered through ethical, ecological, and democratic norms in a process of public debate and participation. The walls between ‘‘experts’’ and ‘‘lay people’’ must be broken down along with the elitist norms that form their foundation. Scientists need to enter into dialogical relations with the public to discuss the complexities of cloning and stem cell research to make their positions clear and accessible, as well as accountable and responsible, while public intellectuals and activists need to become educated in biotechnology in order to debate biotechnology issues in the media or public.

Scientists should recognize that their endeavors embody specific biases and value choices, subject them to critical scrutiny, and seek more humane, life enhancing, and democratic values to guide their work. Respect for nature and life, preserving the natural environment, and serving human needs over corporate profits should be primary values embedded in science.

This approach is quite unlike how science so far has conducted itself in many areas. Most blatantly, perhaps, scientists, hand in hand with corporations, have prematurely rushed the genetic manipulation of agriculture, animals, and the world’s food supply while ignoring important environmental, health, and ethical concerns. Immense power brings enormous responsibility, and it is time for scientists to be awake to this fact and make public accountability integral to their ethos and research. A schizoid modern science that rigidly splits facts from values must give way to a postmodern metascience that grounds the production of knowledge in a social context of dialogue and communication with citizens.  The shift from a cold and detached ‘‘neutrality’’ to a participatory understanding of life that deconstructs the modern subject/object dichotomy derails realist claims to unmediated access to the world and opens the door to an empathetic and ecological understanding of nature (Keller 1983; Birke and Hubbard 1995).

In addition, scientists need to take up the issue of democratic accountability and ethical responsibility in their work. As Bill Joy argued in a much-discussed Wired article in July 2000, uncontrolled genetic technology, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology could create catastrophic disasters, as well as utopian benefits. Joy’s article set off a firestorm of controversy, especially his call for government regulation of new technology and ‘‘relinquishment’’ of development of potentially dangerous new technologies, as he claimed biologists called for in the early days of genetic engineering, when the consequences of the technology were not yet clear.20 Arguing that scientists must assume responsibility for their productions, Joy warned that humans should be very careful about the technologies they develop, as they may have unforeseen consequences. Joy noted that robotics was producing increasingly intelligent machines that might generate creative robots that could be superior to humans, produce copies of themselves, and assume control of the design and future of humans. Likewise, genetic engineering could create new species, some perhaps dangerous to humans and nature, while nanotechnology might build horrific ‘‘engines of destruction’’ as well as of the ‘‘engines of creation’’ envisioned by Eric Drexler (1987).

Science and technology, however, not only require responsibility and accountability on the part of scientists, but also regulation by government and democratic debate and participation by the public. Public need to agree on rules and regulations for cloning and stem cell research, and there should be laws, guidelines, and regulatory agencies open to public input and scrutiny. To be rational and informed, citizens must be educated about the complexities of genetic engineering and cloning, a process that can unfold through vehicles such as public forums, teach-ins, and creative use of the broadcast media and Internet.  The Internet is a treasure-trove of information, ranging from informative sites such as the Council for Responsible Genetics ( and The Institute of Science in Society (, to lists serves such as hosted by the Sierra Club and various weblogs.

But to publicize and politicize biotechnology issues, social movements will have to take up issues like the cloning and stem cell debate into their public pedagogies and struggles. Movements like the anti-nuclear coalitions and organized struggles against genetically modified foods have had major successes in educating the public, promoting debate, and influencing legislation and public opinion. It will not do, however, to simply let the market decide what technologies will or will not be allowed, nor should bans be accepted on technologies that can benefit human life. Instead, citizens and those involved in social movements should engage issues of biotechnology and aid in public education and debate.

An intellectual revolution is needed to remedy the deficiencies in the education of both scientists and citizens, as such that each can have, in Habermas’ framework, ‘‘communicative competency’’ informed by sound value thinking, skills in reasoning, and democratic sensibilities. A Deweyean reconstruction of education would have scientists take more humanities and philosophy courses and engage ethical and political issues involved in the development and implementation of science and technology, and would have students in other fields take more science and technology courses to become literate in some of the major material and social forces of the epoch. C.P. Snow’s analysis of the ‘‘two cultures’’ problem provides a challenge for a democratic reconstruction of education to overcome in an increasing scientific and technological age that requires more and better knowledge of science and humanities.

Critical and self-reflexive scrutiny of scientific means, ends, and procedures should be a crucial part of the enterprise. ‘‘Critical,’’ in Haraway’s analysis, signifies ‘‘evaluative, public, multiactor, multiagenda, oriented to equality and heterogeneous well-being (Haraway 1997, 95).’’ Indeed, there should be debates concerning precisely what values are incorporated into specific scientific projects and whether these serve legitimate ends and goals. In the case of mapping the human genome, for instance, enormous amounts of money and energy are being spent, but almost no resources are going to educating the public about the ethical implications of having a genome map. The Human Genome Project spent only 3%–5% of its $3 billion budget on legal, ethical, and social issues, and Celera spent even less.21

A democratic biopolitics and reconstruction of education would involve the emergence of new perspectives, understandings, sensibilities, values, and paradigms that put in question the assumptions, methods, values, and interpretations of modern sciences, calling for a reconstruction of science.22 At the same time, as science and technology co-construct each other, and both coevolve in conjunction with capitalist growth, profit, and power imperatives, science is reconstructing—not always for the better—the natural and social worlds, as well as our very identities and bodies. There is considerable ambiguity and tension in how science will play out given the different trajectories it can take. Unlike the salvationist promises of the techo scientific ideology and the apocalyptic dystopias of some of its critics, I see the future of science and technology to be entirely ambiguous, contested, and open. For now, the only certainty is that the juggernaut of the genetic revolution is rapidly advancing and that in the name of medical progress, animals are being victimized and exploited in new ways, while the replication and re-design of human beings is looming.

The human species is thus at a terribly difficult and complex crossroads.  Whatever steps we take, it is imperative that we do not leave the decisions to the scientists, anymore than we would to the theologians (or corporate-hired bioethicists for that matter), for their judgment and objectivity is less than perfect, especially for the majority who are employed by biotechnology corporations and have a vested interest in the hastening and patenting of the brave new world of biotechnology.23 The issues involving genetics are so important that scientific, political, and moral debate must take place squarely within the public sphere.  The fate of human beings, animals, and nature hangs in the balance, thus it is imperative that the public become informed on the latest developments and biotechnology and that lively and substantive democratic debate take place concerning the crucial issues raised by the new technosciences.



1 Cited in Carey Goldberg, and Gina Kolata, ‘‘Scientists Announce Births of Cows Cloned in New Way.’’ The New York Times. January 21, 1998: A 14. Companies are now preparing to sell milk from cloned cows; see Jennifer Mitol, ‘‘Got cloned milk?’’ July 16, 2001. For the story of Dolly and animal cloning, see Kolata (1998).

2 See Sheryl Gay Stolberg, ‘‘Breakthrough in Pig Cloning Could Aide Organ Transplants’’ (New York Times, January 4, 2001). In July 2002, the Australian government announced draft

guidelines that would regulate transplanting animal organs into humans and anticipated research with pig organs translated into humans within two years; see Benjamin Haslem, ‘‘Animal-to-human transplants get nod,’’ The Australian, July 8, 2002: A1

3 See

4 See Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern-Day Island of Dr, Moreau,’’, October 12, 2001. For a vivid description of the horrors of animal experimentation, see Singer (1975); for an acute diagnosis of the unscientific nature of vivisection, see Greek and Greek (2000).

5 See ‘‘In Test, Japanese Have No Beef With Cloned Beef,’ According to one report, it is more accurate to refer to this beef as being produced by ‘‘embryo twinning,’’ and not the kind of cloning process that produced Dolly; see ‘‘‘Cloned’ Beef Scare Lacks Meat,’’,1282,19146,00.html. As just one indicator of the corporate will to clone animals for mass consumption, the National Institute of Science and Technology has donated $4.7 million to two industries to fund research into cloning chickens for food. See ‘‘Cloned chickens on the menu,’’ New, August 15, 2001.

6 See Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern-Day Island of Dr, Moreau,’’ op. cit., and Sharon

Schmickle, ‘‘It’s what’s for dinner: milk and meat from clones,’’, December 2, 2001.

7 ‘‘Clonefarm: Billions of identical chickens could soon be rolling off production lines,’’, August 18, 2001.

8 Cited in Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern Day Island of Dr. Moreau,’’ op. cit.

9 The Missyplicity Project boasts a strong code of bioethics; see

10 See

11 ‘‘In Cloning, Failure Far Exceeds Success,’’ Gina Kolata,

12 See ‘‘Clones contain hidden DNA damage,’’

jsp?id=ns9999982; see also the study published in Science (July 6, 2001), which discusses why so many clone pregnancies fail and why some cloned animals suffer strange maladies in their hearts, joints, and immune system.

13 ‘‘Clone Study Casts Doubt in Stem Cells: Variations in Mice Raise Human Research Issues,’’ printer, July 6, 2001.

14 See ‘‘Scientists Warn of Dangers of Human Cloning,’’ See also the commentaries in Gareth Cook, ‘‘Scientists say cloning may lead to long-term ills,’’ The Boston Globe, July 6, 2001; Steve Connor, ‘‘Human cloning will never be safe,’’ Independent, July 6, 2001; Carolyn Abraham, ‘‘Clone creatures carry genetic glitches,’’ July 6, 2001; Connor cites Dolly-cloner Ian Wilmut who noted: ‘‘It surely adds yet more evidence that there should be a moratorium against copying people. How can anybody take the risk of cloning a baby when its outcome is so unpredictable?’’

15 See ‘‘Report Says Scientists See Cloning Problems‘‘,

16 The Westhusin quote is at; the ‘‘misplaced carbons’’ quote is in Philip Cohen, ‘‘Clone Killer,’’

17 ‘‘Human Clone Moves Sparks Global Outrage,’’, March 11, 2001.

18 Given this attitude, it is no surprise that in September, 2001, Texas AM University, the same institution working on cloning cats and dogs, showed off newly cloned pigs, who joined the bulls and goat already cloned by the school, as part of the ‘‘world’s first cloned animal fair.’’

19 See ‘‘Back from the Brink: Cloning Endangered Species,’’ Pamela Weintraub, http:// feature2, August 31, 2001. ‘‘Gene Find No Small


20 See the collection of responses to Joy’s article in Wired 8.07 (July 2000). Agreeing with Joy that there need to be firm guidelines regulating nanotechnology, the Foresight Institute has written a set of guidelines for its development that take into account problems such as commercialization, unjust distribution of benefits, and potential dangers to the environment. See I encourage such critical dialog on both the benefits and dangers of new technologies and hope to contribute to these debates with our studies.

21 See,1294,36886,00.html.

22 On ‘‘new science’’ and ‘‘new sensibilities,’’ see Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Beacon Press, Boston, 1964) and An Essay on Liberation (Beacon Press, Boston 1969).

23 For a sharp critique of how bioethicists are bought off and co-opted by corporations in their bid for legitimacy, see ‘‘Bioethicists Fall Under Familiar Scrutiny,’’



Best S, Kellner D (2001) The postmodern adventure: science, technology, and cultural

studies at the third millennium. Guilford Press, New York

Birke L, Ruth H (1995) Reinventing biology: respect for life and the creation of

knowledge. Indiana University Press, Bloomington

Fox MW (1999) Beyond evolution: the genetically altered future of plants, animals, the

earth, and humans. The Lyons Press, New York

Greek R, Greek JS (2000) Sacred cows and golden geese: the human cost of experiments

on animals. Continuum, New York

Habermas J (1979) Communication and the evolution of society. Beacon Press, Boston,


Habermas J (1984) Theory of communicative action, vol 1. Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Habermas J (1987) Theory of communicative action, vol 2. Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Haraway D (1997) Modest witness@second millennium Female meets oncomouse.

Routledge, New York

Huxley A (1989a) Brave new world. Perennial Library, New York

Kass L (1998) The wisdom of repugnance. In: Pence G (ed) Flesh of my flesh: the ethics

of human cloning. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham MD, pp 13–37

Keller EF (1983) A feeling for the organism: the life and work of Barbara McClintock.

WHFreeman and Co, New York

Marcuse H (1964) One-dimensional man. Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Marcuse H (1969) An essay on liberation. Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Rifkin J (1998) The biotech century: harnessing the gene and remaking the world.

Tarcher/Putnam, New York

“Scientists in British labs have created over 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in the past three years, which has caused concern that led to a call for major oversight from the Academy of Medical Sciences over animals containing human materials (ACHM).

In 2007, licenses from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were granted to three labs in the UK – King’s College London, Newcastle University and Warwick University – to create hybrid embryos, or cytoplasmic hybrids. Scientists claimed that they were working toward creating stem cells that could be used to study a number of diseases and disorders, such as HIV, cancer, infertility, Alzheimers and hepatitis, among others.

Since then “a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos” have been created, reports the Daily Mail.”

Read more:

And see above essays on “Genetic Science, Animal Exploitation, and the Challenge for Democracy” and “The Island of Dr. Moreau via the Campus of Dr. Jentsch and the UCLA `Pro-Test’ Campaign to Legitimate Scientific Terrorism” for related analyses.

Steven Best

“We do not regard the animals as moral beings. But do you suppose the animals regard us as moral beings? — An animal which could speak said: ‘Humanity is a prejudice of which we animals at least are free.’” Friedrich Nietzsche

“What does it mean to be “human”? The question, though it has occupied some of the greatest Western minds of philosophy, science, history, and political theory, could not have been answered with any plausibility until recently, for we have only begin to acquire the scientific knowledge necessary to provide an informed response. At the same time, recent scientific and technological developments have produced radical and vertiginous change. The possibilities of artificial intelligence, robotics, cloning, pharmacology, stem cell research, and genetic modification pose entirely new challenges for attempts to define “human” in fixed and essentialist rather than fluid and plastic terms.[1]

Despite our deep-rooted biological and social evolution, “humanity” is a social construct involving the identity and conception humans have of themselves as members of a species. In its arrogant, alienated, and domineering Western form, human identity reflects a host of problematic assumptions, biases, prejudices, and myths derived from religion, philosophy, science, and culture as a whole. The massive, tangled knot of ideologies involved in the social construction of our species identity need to be critically unraveled, so that we can develop new identities and societies and forge sane, ethical, ecological, and sustainable life ways. To an important degree, the new identities must emerge from an ethic of respect and connectedness to all sentient life – human and nonhuman – and to the Earth as a whole. Ethically progressive and inclusive, new post-humanist identities and values would also be scientifically valid, by accurately representing the true place of Homo sapiens in the social, sentient, and ecological communities in which it finds itself enmeshed.

Profound change has been stirring in areas such as philosophy and religion, but in many key ways science is paving the way, with new discoveries forcing a rethinking of human identity and ethics and carrying a number of profound social and political implications as well. In urging systematic conceptual shifts in our views of the natural world and specifically nonhuman animals, this essay also underscores an irony and problem that has received little if any attention. This concerns the gross failures of the Left ― the entire spectrum of positions from Left-liberalism to Marxism to socialism and anarchism ― to engage one of the most significant intellectual convulsions of the modern era, namely, cognitive ethology: the scientific study of animal intelligence, emotions, behaviors, and social life. Although Darwin was an early pioneer of the field in the mid-nineteenth century, ethology did not gain decisive ground until the 1980s, when advanced by visionaries such as Donald Griffin, and subsequently was popularized by scientists and writers such as Marc Bekoff. In our current time, hardly a day passes without new and exciting breakthroughs, as the number of conferences, articles, and books on the topic continue to proliferate and the findings of ethological research continue to amaze – and humble ― the research community and lay audience.

Science has always been important to the Left, as progressives and radicals proudly wore the mantle of the European Enlightenment and championed the beneficial consequences of scientific advance that brought intellectual, moral, and social progress. In radical traditions from the nineteenth century to the present, Leftists prided themselves on their empiricism, naturalism, evolutionary outlook, skepticism, and agnosticism or atheism. Inseparably related to their support of scientific and Enlightenment values of learning, critical thinking, and autonomy, Leftists have also embraced the moral and political values of the modern revolutionary traditions that emphasized rights, democracy, equality, justice, and autonomy.

While an ecological turn did not take hold in Leftist thought until the 1970s, the Left today seems to be decades or another century away from discerning the moral, political, social, and ecological importance of animal liberation and the critique of speciesism[2] (the belief in the inherent superiority of humans over all other species due to their alleged unique cognitive capacities). With few exceptions, Leftists have systematically devalued or ignored the horrific plight of animals as a trivial issue compared to human suffering, and they have therefore mocked or dismissed the animal liberation movement that emerged in the 1970s to become a global movement more dynamic, powerful, and widespread than virtually any human cause or liberation movement. Despite their affirmation of Darwinian theory, which views human beings as natural beings who co-evolved with other animals in an organic continuum, the humanist elements of Leftist culture ― which emphasize the radical uniqueness and singularity of humans as “superior” animals ― prevailed over the naturalist elements ― which emphasize the continuum of biological evolution, even as it phases into social evolution and cultural development.

This essay raises various questions concerning human identity politics ― the social, political, and environmental implications of how humans view and conduct themselves as members of a distinct species in relation to other species and the Earth as a whole ― and situates Left humanist views as a variant, rather than rejection, of Western anthropocentrism, speciesism, and the pathology of humanism. As part of the problem rather than the solution, I argue that Leftist humanist theories (including “eco-humanist” variants) fail to advance a truly revolutionary break with the mindsets and institutions underpinning hierarchy, oppression, violence, species extinction, and the current global ecological crisis. I claim that because of the atavistic, unenlightened, pre-scientific, and discriminatory views toward nonhuman animals, such as led them to miss some of the most profound scientific and moral revolutions of the era, Leftists cannot regain their place of pride in progressive culture until they jettison their shopworn hierarchical and exploitative views, a process that can be catalyzed by engaging the major themes and findings of ethology.

Modernity and its Discontinuities

“Man, if we look to final causes, may be regarded as the centre of the world.” Francis Bacon

“The most calamitous and fragile of all creatures is man, and yet the most arrogant. (…) Is it possible to imagine anything so ridiculous as that this pitiful, miserable creature, who is not even master of himself, should call himself master and lord of the universe? It is apparent that it is not by a true judgment, but by foolish pride and stubbornness, that we set ourselves before other animals and sequester ourselves from their condition and society.” Michel Montaigne

As humans continue to explore their evolutionary past and gain a more accurate knowledge of the intelligence of great apes and other animals, as they probe the depths of the cosmos in search of life more advanced than themselves, as they develop increasingly sophisticated computers and forms of artificial intelligence and artificial life (self-reproducing “digital DNA”), as they create transgenic beings and cross species boundaries to exchange their genes with animals, as they clone forms and create others virtually from scratch, and as they merge ever more intimately with technology and computers to construct bionic bodies and become cyborgs, the question inexorably arises: Who/what is Homo sapiens?

Since the first cosmologies, ancient Greek philosophy, Christian theology, and modern science to Marxist humanism and naturalism, Western culture has struggled, and failed, to attain an adequate understanding of the human species. From religious attempts to define us as immortal souls made in the image of God to philosophical efforts to classify us as disembodied minds, thinkers have approached the question of human nature apart from their bodies, animal past, and evolutionary history. Whereas such fictions vaporize biological realities and exaggerate human uniqueness in relation to other animal species, sociobiology reduces humans to instinct-driven, DNA-bearing organisms devoid of free will and cognitive complexity. Both extremes fail to grasp the tensions and mediations that shape the human animal, a term/being that exists within the tension of culture/nature, of the long biological and social evolutionary journey that shaped Homo sapiens. A deep understanding of human nature has been obscured by vanity, arrogance, error, and pomposity, as well as fear and insecurity of being “merely” animal.

Human identity in Western culture has been formed through the potent combination of agricultural domestication of animals and plants, Judeo-Christian anthropocentrism, Greco-Roman rationalism, medieval theology, Renaissance humanism, and modern mechanistic science. Whether religious or secular, philosophical or scientific, these sources concur in the belief that humans are wholly unique beings, existing in culture rather than nature, alone in having language and reason, and thus humans are ontologically divorced from animals and the Earth. Throughout ancient and medieval societies, during the Greek, Roman, and Christian empires, humans easily imagined themselves to be the most unique and advanced forms of life on Earth, the ends to which all other beings and things were mere means. Whether ancient or modern, religious or secular, there has been an unbroken continuity of human separation, arrogance, and domination over animals and the natural world, such as is inseparable from our domination over one another.[3]

Beginning in the sixteenth century, however, the dominionist, anthropocentric, speciesist, theocratic, and geocentric worldview of Western society suffered a series of powerful intellectual blows that decentered humans from their cosmological throne and self-assigned position of power and privilege. Each conceptual bomb destabilized the medieval cosmological picture in which God is the center of all things, the Earth is the heart of the universe, “Man” is the core of the Earth, and the soul or reason is the essence of the human. Over the last five hundred years, this cosmology ― which can be visually depicted as a series of concentric circles ― has been overturned through a series of “discontinuities.” These involve intellectual, scientific, and technological developments that shatter the illusory privilege, harmony, and coherence that human beings vaingloriously attempt to establish between themselves and the universe. Whenever a rift opens in their narcissistic map of reality, humans are forced to reevaluate the nature of the universe, to rethink their place in it, and to restore philosophical order. Invariably, this process occurs by reestablishing their alleged privilege and uniqueness in a new way. Of course, while many push for change amidst the destabilization of paradigms, others resist it, and opposing viewpoints clash and struggle for the power of truth and the truth of power.

As a strong reaction to theism, the hegemony of theology, and the oppressive and hostile stance the Christian Church took toward scientific and technological advance, humanism sought the unleashing of the powers of science and industry, it sought to replace the domination of nature over humans by the domination of humans over nature, and urged humans to seize command over the natural world and use it improve human life.[4] This Promethean outlook tended to further separate culture and nature, and despite an expanding scientific optic it further polarized the “animal” and “human” worlds, such that animals were unthinking beasts contrasted to the luminescence of human reason. The rationality, technology, culture, and other core attributes of humans were defined not as elaborations of the animal world but as arising ex nihilo as singular phenomena utterly and radically new in history.

In his book, The Fourth Discontinuity, Bruce Mazlish identifies four ruptures in the medieval picture of reality brought about by dynamic changes in the modern world.[5] The first discontinuity opened with the Copernican revolution in the sixteenth century. In place of the dominant geocentric worldview that situated the Earth at the epicenter of the universe and claimed that the sun revolved around it, Copernicus, and subsequently Galileo in the seventeenth century, argued that the sun occupies the center of the universe and the Earth revolves around the sun. Under the spell of the Ptolemy and medieval cosmology, human beings had to confront the fact that their planet is not the physical center of the universe. Not only did this fact contradict official Church dogma, the spatial decentering entailed a psychological decentering, moving the Earth and possibly humanity itself from the center of the picture to the margins. Of course, science has since demonstrated that there is no center to the universe, that its limits are endless. There have been rich speculations, moreover, that alien species exist that are far more intelligent and advanced than humans, that there may be other or “parallel” universes, and that humankind inhabits a “small planet attached to an insignificant star in a backwater galaxy.”[6]

But rather than a blow to human supremacism, some modern thinkers saw this first decentering or discontinuity as an opportunity for humankind to assert itself even more boldly in the universe. As J.B. Bury writes,

Finding himself in an insignificant island floating in the immensity of space, [“man”] decides that he is at last master of his own destinies; he can fling away the old equipment of final causes, original sin, and the rest; he can reconstruct his own chart and, bound by no cosmic scheme, he need take the universe into account only in so far as he judges it to be his own profit. Or, if he is a philosopher, he may say that, after all, the universe for him is built out of his own sensations, and that by virtue of this relativity “anthropo-centrism” is restored in a new and more effective form.[7]

Thus, one should never underestimate the narcissistic capacity of human beings to assert and re-assert the belief that their species is the meaning of reality and that all things exist for their purpose, pleasure, and profit. The dialectics of decentering and recentering would recur many times over. Heliocentrism was part and parcel of a new empirical science that was a crucial catalyst for modern humanism, a veritable secular religion in which humanity elevated itself to divine status and sought possession of the Earth for its advancement. The mechanistic theories of Thomas Hobbes and Julien Offray de Le Mettrie in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries respectively, were potential counters to human supremacy, by rejecting Cartesian dualism, stripping away the soul, leaving nothing but the body as machine, but religion, science, and philosophy were united in asserting human supremacism by any and all avenues.

Despite the heliocentric theories of Copernicus and Galileo and the development of a secular scientific culture, humanity nevertheless could feel comfortable in its alleged separation from and superiority over the “brute beasts” of the Earth. Comfortable, that is, until the second discontinuity, which opened up in 1859, when Darwin published his world-shaking treatise, The Origin of Species. This seminal work dealt a fatal blow to the Platonic metaphysics informing Western thought, which denied the reality of change and sought truth in a transcendental and timeless realm of ideas or “Forms.” During the nineteenth century, numerous thinkers explored the idea that nature changes and evolves toward greater diversity and complexity. But it was not until Darwin’s breakthrough insight into natural selection that key mechanisms of biological change and speciation were understood, effecting a conceptual revolution that inalterably changed the human understanding of the natural world, of time and change, and of itself.

Darwin demolished a litany of propositions taught by mainstream interpretations of the Old and New Testaments, such as: God made humans in his image; God put animals on the Earth for human benefit; God created the animals after he created humans; and each act of creation was unique and unrelated to the other. Yet Darwin showed, and science subsequently has confirmed, a set of counter-propositions: one can explain the universe without positing God, there is no inherent purpose in the universe, animals lived for billions of years before humans, and all life evolves in a continuum from the same primordial conditions. Over a century a half after the publication of The Origin of Species, however, much of the world still cannot confront the facts of evolution and the animalic origins of human life.

In scientific quarters, however, the Darwinian theory of evolution grew increasingly influential and became a dogma in its own right. Yet, as scientists had strong psychological investments in speciesist values, along with career and economic investments in vivisection, they either ignored Darwin’s emphasis on the continuum of evolution and the intelligence of nonhuman animals, or they interpreted Darwin in regressive ways that promoted speciesist, classist, racist, and elitist agendas. Beginning with Thomas Huxley (nicknamed “Darwin’s bulldog” for his aggressive defense of natural selection theory), thinkers in the natural and social sciences, anthropologists, and sundry social elites transformed “Darwinism” ― a theory about the mechanisms of biological evolution ― into “Social Darwinism.” This ideology involved a vulgar application of natural selection theory to society in ways that naturalized hierarchy and conflated differences between the natural and social worlds. Exquisitely suited for a class-divided society, capitalists seized on Social Darwinism to legitimate and naturalize their exploitative rule over labor. Invoking pseudo-ecological concepts such as “competition,” “struggle,” and the “survival of the fittest,” defenders of a bastardized Darwinism used natural selection theory to frame social life as a contest, battle, and war, with the spoils going to the victors (i.e., the capitalist elite). Social Darwinism and the “might is right” ideology filtered into mass consciousness to bolster not only the domination of some humans over others, but also all humans over animals. For with their wits, alleged superior intelligence, and technological powers, humans “clawed their way to the top of the food chain,” as the popular phrase goes, and their power was “right” by virtue of its might, irrespective of the circularity of such reasoning.

Thus, rather than interpreting Darwin’s theory in a way that relates and reintegrates human beings with other species and natural processes, conceptual corruptions of natural selection have worked to alienate humans from one another, other animal species, and the natural world, while providing crude justification for violence, exploitation, and unrestrained extermination of nonhuman animals. Darwinism was not unambiguously progressive in its impact upon both human and nonhuman animals, but rather, cut both ways. Some interpretations emphasize animal intelligence, the evolutionary continuities of nonhuman and human animals, and the deep animalic roots of Homo sapiens. Other readings, however, toss out everything Darwin wrote about animal emotions and intelligence to return to the Cartesian view of animals as objects rather than subjects (see below). This regressive, humanist version of Darwinism shredded his conceptual quilt work uniting all sentient life. It demeaned nonhuman animals in order to deify human animals as omnipotent demigods for whom all things exist in relation to humans as a mere means to their ends.

Still grappling with Darwin’s blow to the geocentric and anthropocentric worldview, Western culture had to confront the facts and consequences of a third discontinuity opened by the theory of the unconscious mind, such as advanced in the nineteenth century by Friedrich Nietzsche and, above all, in the early twentieth century by Sigmund Freud. Against the Christian/Cartesian view of the self as governed by a rational command center and the body as a temporary housing for the immortal soul, Freud demonstrated that rationality and conscious thought are products of the body ― epiphenomena of the subterranean, unconscious realm of existence governed by primordial instincts, desires, drives, and the sexual and violent urges of the Id.

But the same pattern is repeated here: the destabilizing effects of a discontinuity and decentering process forces Western theorists ― elaborating ideologies that are anthropocentric, speciesist, rationalist, and humanist ― to mend the conceptual tear that threatens to decenter the privileged place of the human in the universe. Damage control begins immediately through a series of ad hoc, increasingly threadbare justifications for clinging to one element or another of the premodern world picture. Thus, despite the revolutionary implications of Freudian theory, and the paradigm shift that established the primacy of the unconscious and body over the rational self, scientists and thinkers from various quarters reasserted rationality (along with related traits that included language, tool-making, and culture) as the essential and unique trait that separates humans from animals. These reactionary humanists constructed a double-sided fallacy, one that exaggerates the role of rationality in human animals as it minimizes the intelligence of nonhuman animals. Condemned as reactionary, Marxists and others did not trouble themselves with the Freudian provocation or the question of human animality in general.

Finally, Mazlish notes, a fourth discontinuity surface during the mid-twentieth century, with the rapid development of computer technologies and artificial intelligence. After confronting their separation from the cosmos, their animal origins, and the primacy of their subconscious being, humans were forced to reconsider their relation to machines. Just as Christians and other believers in God and immortality are repelled by the thought of their animalic origins, so too ― being special creations of God with privileged status ― they loathe being likened to machines. Contrary to the mechanistic philosophies of Hobbes and La Mettrie, humans want to be ensouled, immortal, and privileged in some way. From sublime thinkers to laypersons, humans have a need to feel wholly other to animals and machines, to be radically unique in their reason and self-consciousness, and to exist as stunningly singular in their possession of free will.

Yet, as the artificial intelligence of computers grows ever-more sophisticated and continues to surpass the capacities of human minds in many ways, people are forced to question yet another alleged ontological divide, the one separating humans from machines. Even “machines” are no longer mechanisms as traditionally described, since they are ever more closely approximating the biological operations of the brain through neural nets, parallel processing, evolutionary hardware, and the like. Moreover, when the self-ascribed “essence” of the human is stripped away, and human beings begin to merge intimately with their machines, fusing flesh with steel and silicon chips, human identity comes into question in disturbing ways.

As we create human-like computers and robots, we ourselves become ever-more like cyborgs by incorporating technology into the human body. While many resist the implosion of biology and technology, a bold cadre of technophiles, visionaries, futurists, and transhumanists embrace it as the next and inevitable stage in human evolution. In one variant of this scenario, our merger with machines would dramatically increase human intelligence, happiness, and longevity, thus in effect creating a new posthuman species far superior to our current carbon-based model. In another version, humans will soon be able to create “spiritual machines” (Kurzweil) or “mind children” (Moravec) that constitute a new posthuman species far superior to our current carbon-based model.[8] Radical technophiles like Moravec envision humanity moving to a higher state of being and attaining immortality by merging their minds with computers. Far more than theories of evolution, these techno-utopias represent neo-Cartesian assumptions that mind is substance and body is an accidental trait as well as secular manifestations of the Christian quest for immortality.

The Human Chimpanzee

“Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity. [Yet it is] more humble and, I believe, true to consider him created from animals.” Charles Darwin

Thus, since the opening of modernity five centuries ago, human beings have had to confront (for starters) four major discontinuities which problematized their alleged radical uniqueness and special status in the universe. In each case, “rational man” had to rethink human identity ― his species identity common to all other humans, or rather, all those counted as “human” and as part of the valuer’s community. In quick succession, the reflexive members of Homo sapiens had to overcome scientific and philosophical false dichotomies and illusions of separation from the infinite cosmos, the animal world, the unconscious, and machines. Humans had to engage, even if to deflect, the theoretical developments that increasingly decentered their place in a Platonic perfect unchanging universe allegedly constructed for them to lay down culture and “civilization” over nature, which has meaning only when seized for human purposes.

Those possessing the virtue (celebrated by Nietzsche) of “intellectual honesty” had to begin digesting the nauseating knowledge that the glorious celestial empire was not created in their honor. Rather, it gradually became clear, humans inhabited a small speck of infinite space on a miniscule planet floating in the cold darkness without inherent purpose. Irrepressibly, evidence mounted that humans emerged 5-8 million years ago from a diverse primate family. They co-evolved with other species, with their animality grounded in biological dynamics from which consciousness emerges. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it began to dawn on growing numbers of humans that there are other kinds of minds in the universe, both organic (animals) and inorganic (machines).

And yet, as we have seen, there is a dialectic between decentering and recentering. As happens so often, when humans are forced to face their contingency and limitations, they struggle to reinterpret and domesticate radical theories in a way that preserves their cosmic singularity, divinely-bestowed privileges, and supremacist identities. But are we now as a species reaching a tipping point where anthropocentric and speciesist outlooks finally give way, or at least lose all intellectual credibility?

While Mazlish ably describes four major challenges to human identity from the sixteenth century to the contemporary era, there are many additional developments in the decentering process and human identity formation that are important to highlight and thematize[9]. Many of the conceptual breakthroughs and revolutions in the last half century relate to a deepening understanding of animal minds and our own animality. After the four major blows to anthropocentric and speciesist identities inflicted by Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, and cybernetics, Richard Ryder ― the English philosopher who coined the term “speciesism” ― believes that, “We must now continue this process by discarding speciesism along with our other delusions or grandeur, and accept our natural place in the universe.”[10]

The fact is that only since 1859 has humanity begun to understand the forces of life and their origins and nature at all. Mythology, religion, philosophy, and science all contributed to constructing myths, distortions, and false consciousness that failed to grasp the organic emergence of Homo sapiens in evolutionary processes. Archaeology dates back only to the late 1800s, and it did not become a systematic science until after World War II. Humans had virtually no conception of apes until the late nineteenth century, and accounts from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries describe gorillas as dangerous degenerates, beast-men, or monsters. In the eighteenth century writers such as Lord Monboddo believed that the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) were races of primitive people ignorant of the ways of speech. Growing acquaintance with their physiology and behaviors, however, began to subvert human belief in their own uniqueness as it became increasingly obvious that primates were our closest biological relatives and that humans were part of an animal continuum and evolutionary process. Increasing knowledge of ape anatomy and behavior “subverted a traditional form of human self-confidence (…) the apes undermined convictions of human peculiarity and privilege. Gradually or fitfully, the process has continued ever since.”[11]

Philosopher Raymond Corbey describes the threat and challenge posed to human identity with the discovery of the great apes:

Apart from a progressing modernisation and secularisation and the growing influence of the natural sciences, a crucial factor which led to the profound change in the North Atlantic way of seeing the world was the discovery and the study of the apes and the early apelike hominides. Finally, it was no longer theology with its creation story which gave humanity its position within nature but the development of evolution. These newly discovered creatures, similar to humans but yet animals, turned out to be our closest relatives and therefore threatened traditional and well loved beliefs of human God-likeness and uniqueness. Nevertheless, the sacrosanct boundary between humans and animals which determined who could be owned, who could be killed, who could be eaten was not given up but redrawn. The exclusively human area was vigorously defended and again and again redefined … [it is important to describe] the involuntary withdrawal from former beliefs of human uniqueness which have been challenged over and over again by debates on apes.[12]

“Ecology” did not emerge as an official science until 1866, when German Darwinist Earnest Haeckel coined the term. As the study of organisms in their relation to one another and their environment, ecology is an inherently holistic outlook that contextualizes the origin and nature of human animals within a larger web of life. Yet, whereas humans arrogantly assume they live in technological castles that hover above the natural world, ecology showed that they in fact are an extension and part of nature and are deeply interdependent on an inconceivably complex system of relationships. Ecology, indeed, is a humbling discipline, for it reveals that humans ― who conceive of themselves as the highest form of life ― are utterly dependent upon the smallest, “lowest,” and most “mundane” forms. The earthworm, dung beetle, butterfly, and bacteria are far more crucial for the dynamics of the Earth than humans who, indeed, at this critical point in their social evolution are a destructive and disruptive force threatening all life systems of the planet.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was believed that a large brain was the initial step and driving force of human evolution, a falsehood encouraged with the hoax of the Piltdown man. Until 1924, when Raymond Dart discovered the “Taung child” fossil in South Africa and identified it as a new species, A. africanus, anthropologists wrongly assumed that humans evolved in Europe or Asia rather than Africa, and they falsely believed that large brains developed before bipedality. Only in the 1950s (and more fully in the 1970s) did anthropologists discover more australopithecine fossils in Africa and thereby begin to understand that our earliest ancestors were more like non-human primates than modern humans. Archaeology bears direct relation on the construction of species identity. The discovery of “Lucy,” for example, broadened the criteria of “human,” it significantly pushed our ancestral line back in time, and it set up a line-drawing problem established on the dilemma of a slippery slope. As Felipe Fernandez-Armesto notes, “if we can accept Lucy as an ancestress, it helps to stretch the elasticity of the embrace in which we clasp each other, regardless of colour or creed, outward appearance or mental resources or moral worth.”[13] But, he asks, why stop there? Why exclude still earlier generations of human ancestors? Why not include Ardepithecus ramidus, an apelike hominid capable of upright walking 4.4 million years ago, but nonetheless lived in trees? Or chimpanzees? How and where does one draw the line between human and nonhuman? Are there objective, non-arbitrary grounds for delineation?

Not until 1960, when Jane Goodall made her historic journey to Gombe National Park in Tanzania, Africa did human beings possess even a rudimentary understanding of the higher apes, specifically the chimpanzee. Using her pioneering method of “habituation,” of patient observation that invited eventual acceptance or ignoring her presence, Goodall later discovered that infanticide, warfare, and murder were not behaviors unique solely to humans, but existed among chimpanzees as well. Such discoveries, in addition to the genetic confirmation of our evolutionary closeness to chimpanzees, are crucial for any informed discussion of human nature and identity.

In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers began to pioneer the genetic sciences and technologies that would prove crucial for an adequate understanding of human evolution. Linnaeus, Darwin, and others recognized that humans have significant physical and structural similarities with chimpanzees and gorillas, and on morphological grounds belong in the same general grouping. DNA analysis established just how close we are to the great apes, showing that humans and chimpanzees shared a common ape ancestor, and diverged from one another along different evolution paths some five to seven million years ago. Through genetic science, scientists have established that humans share 95-98 percent of their genes with chimpanzees, such that chimpanzees are biologically closer to us than they are to orangutans and gorillas.

Scientists started understanding the details of our genetic relationships to apes, and in 1975 molecular genetics determined that chimps and humans are at least 96 percent alike in their DNA (and 99 percent alike for genes that encode proteins). In 2002, these findings were verified by the Human Genome Project, which decoded the human genetic structure. In an important 2003 study scientists at Wayne State University provided new genetic evidence that humans and chimpanzees diverged so recently that chimps should be reclassified as Homo troglodytes.[14] This change would make them full-fledged members of our Genus, Homo, such that they would reside with Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Neanderthals, and other “proto”-human types. Geographer Jared Diamond rightly categorized humans as the “third chimpanzee,” along with common chimpanzees and bonobos.[15] Humans do not constitute a distinct Family, or even a singular Genus, but rather belong in the same Genus as chimpanzees and bonobos. If we think without our speciesist blinders, Diamond suggests, we can recognize that there are today three ― not one ― existing Homo species (with two in imminent danger of extinction because of the actions of the third). It may be disconcerting to Western Christian and Cartesian conceptions of humans as disembodied, eternal, singular substances, but we are not only “like” apes, we are apes, and African apes at that. Without an accurate comparative basis to our closest biological relative, we could not have produced an adequate understanding of ourselves, and we have been living in the “shadows of forgotten ancestors” (Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan).

In 1993, Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri founded the “Great Ape Project.”[16] The goal of the international project was to win basic legal rights for apes (life, liberty, and the prohibition of torture) and to free them from the status of property. They advocated a United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes which would grant them rights to liberty and would free all captive great apes (over 3,000 are currently held in research laboratories in the US alone). In addition to the genetic similarities between great apes and humans, they emphasized their commonality with us as “persons” who possess complex emotions, rationality, self-awareness, and awareness of themselves as distinct beings with a past and future, and argued that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans belonged in a “community of equals” with humans. Indeed, as I write, there are cases pending in international courts that could officially recognize great apes as persons.

The Conceptual Revolution of Cognitive Ethology

“The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being.” Karl Marx

Beginning in the seventeenth century, modern science constructed a mechanistic paradigm which views animals as automata or machines. From Descartes to sociobiology and behaviorism in the present, the modern tradition cast animals in the role of brutes or machines who can neither feel nor think. Students trained in this paradigm quickly learned to avoid reference to the subjective life of animals unless they desire ridicule. Under the spell of behaviorism, scientists re-describe the love a chimpanzee might experience as “attachment formation,” the anger of an elephant as “aggression exhibition,” and the aptitude of a bird as a “conditioned reflex.” Journals typically refuse to publish papers that allude to animal thoughts or emotions.

Having misled us for so long about animals, science is initiating a revolution in our understanding. Through evolutionary theory, genetics, neurophysiology, and experimental procedures, many scientists are providing strong evidence that animals feel and think in ways akin to us. As we saw above, the changes began with Charles Darwin. His theory of natural selection informed us that human beings are in fact animals and, as such, they evolve according to the same evolutionary dynamics as nonhuman animals. In The Origin of Species and later works such as The Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin established the animal roots of humanity, and described close psychological and behavioral relations between humans and other animal species. He argued that humans are different from animals “in degree, not kind.” Darwin led the way in showing the evolutionary continuum throughout the animal world, such that there is no dividing point separating unintelligent and intelligent life, but rather a development of consciousness, intelligence, subjectivity, choice, and freedom stretching from elementary organisms to complex thinking animals. Scientists embraced his theory of evolution while ignoring his ethological work, for this they found repugnant to their speciesist prejudices and subversive to business-as-usual in the vivisection research and pharmaceutical industries where the pursuit of profit cannot be troubled by moral conscience and ethical truths.

Donald Griffin’s work dealt powerful blows to the behaviorist tradition of John Watson and B.F. Skinner.[17] Considered to be the father of cognitive ethology, and famous for discovering bats use echolocation to map their terrain, Griffin took seriously the notion that animals can think and made compelling arguments to that effect. Since Griffin’s work, a rich scientific literature has been assembled proving the sophistication and flexibility of animal minds. Through ingenuity and countless instances of observation and experimentation, a solid case for animal intelligence has been established that is changing not only our view of animals, but ourselves.[18] The evidence for animal intelligence is vast, substantial, and overwhelmingly indicative of the presence of complex minds, social life, and behaviors in nonhuman animals.

Clearly, results can be interpreted in different ways, and staunch defenders of behaviorism remain unconvinced. In 1984, C. Lloyd Morgan formulated the “law of parsimony,” a variation on Ockham’s razor, which states that one should not appeal to a “higher” function (intelligence) of organisms when a “lower” function (instinct) will adequately explain a behavior. Behaviorists used his principle in an aggressively reductionist manner, subsuming all behaviors to crude instincts and learning mechanisms. But Morgan himself admitted animal intelligence exists, and his principle establishes just the opposite. When confronted by the overwhelming evidence of animal intelligence, the lower functions do not explain the behaviors; rather, they make sense only through reference to higher level principles. In other words, the simplest explanation, the one not saddled with ad hoc qualifications, is an appeal to the flexible and thinking qualities of animal minds.

While this account of the emotional and intellectual richness of animals may touch the layperson, it offends the hard-nose scientist. From a mechanistic scientific perspective, it is nonsense to speak of animal emotions and minds, since they can’t be observed or measured. It is “anthropomorphic” to ascribe human-like characteristics to animals. It is “unscientific” to name them as if they were people. And such stories at best are merely anecdotal. Today, this situation is changing decisively as science undertakes an exciting paradigm shift that embraces the study of animal emotions and minds. Until the last few decades, human beings have languished in the Paleolithic Era of their knowledge about animals. As evident in a spate of recent books and the new discipline of “cognitive ethology” that studies animal intelligence, science finally is beginning to fathom the depth of animal complexity. It revolutionizes our shallow understanding of nonhuman animals, while altering our vain image of ourselves.

From Donald Griffin’s pioneering work in the 1980s to the recent studies of Roger Fouts, Frans de Wall, Marc Bekoff, Steven Wise, and others, ethology has demonstrated that animals have far more complex thoughts, feelings, and social lives than most humans dared to imagine.[19] Rooted in a dualistic and ahistorical perspective, modern science failed to grasp the developmental continuum of intelligence, social life, and subjectivity within massive spans of evolutionary change and development. Mechanistic science submerges all pre-human evolution into a vast vat of unarticulated consciousness, viewing animals as automatons or machines who merely react to the world instinctually and passively play out their biological programming. The belief that animals are primitive only betrays the archaic limitations of the human mind and its inability to grasp the otherness of animal life and behavior.

This paradigm is now utterly bereft and bankrupt, and many quarters of science and philosophy have abandoned Cartesian mechanism, behaviorism, and speciesist dualism. In the shift to a post-Cartesian science, there are now scores of books, spates of documentaries, and a proliferation of papers that document the breadth and depth of animal complexity and intelligence, chronicling one staggering discovery after another. The pace of discovery is such that, literally, our views of nonhuman animals are changing by the day. We are recognizing distortions and fallacies on each side of the ontological chasm Western society dug between human and nonhuman animals, and ethology has broken down the thick walls of separation. Just as many humans are not rational in many ways, so animals are rational in many ways. Humans overestimate their own rationality as they underestimate the rationality of animals. Similarly, whereas humans have reduced animals to biology and thus denied them culture, so humans, focusing only on the voluntarist facets of their culture, have failed to grasp the biological dimensions of human culture.[20]

Cognitive ethology corroborates the conclusion of common sense and unbiased observation, namely, that animals have rich and complex emotion, intellectual, and social lives ― as it far exceeds the data of everyday life to advance truly startling conclusions. Only the most retrograde Cartesian still denies or is skeptical of the fact that animals are sentient, and we know, moreover, that have every feeling we have, including fear, stress, loneliness, sorrow, jealousy, embarrassment, pride, empathy, love, happiness, and joy. In their vivid vignettes, Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy describe how Michael the gorilla loved opera singer Luciano Pavarotti; how Hoku the dolphin grieved over the death of his marine park companion, Kiko; and how Flint the chimp even died of grief upon the death of his mother, Flo.[21] It is a well-known fact that elephants mourn their dead, enact burial rituals, and seemingly show an awareness of the significance and permanence of death. Animals know joy as well as sorrow, and can be playful as well as serious. They also possess an aesthetic sense, and sense of humor, as evident in the behavior of birds who delight in dancing and chimpanzees who love to bang drums, throw balls, and paint.[22]

Complex forms of intelligence run broad and deep throughout the world of animals. Birds, for instance, have complex memories and abilities to map vast spaces (the speciesist slander “bird brain” could not be more spurious) and some bird species use tools and exhibit problem-solving skills as well. Many animals have abilities to count simple amounts and to recognize patterns and visual relationships and analogies – often better than children and even college undergraduates! There is strong evidence that “higher” mammals such as whales, dolphins, gorillas, and chimpanzees have significant rational and linguistic abilities. Koko the gorilla has a sign vocabulary of 500 words and does internet chats. Alex the African Grey parrot could name over 100 different objects, 7 colors, and 5 shapes; moreover, he can count objects up to 6 and speak in meaningful sentences.[23] Chimpanzees have a repertoire of at least thirty sounds that have distinct meanings and express emotions. Given the tools of American Sign Language and lexigram symbols, great apes are communicating to human beings and one another their needs, desires, and thoughts. Various tests with mirrors and hidden objects suggest that chimpanzees and bonobos might have self-consciousness and awareness of other minds. Dolphins communicate their individuality to each other through signature whistles and whales have a repertoire of over six hundred distinct social sounds. Thousands of experiments in the field and laboratory have demonstrated that animals such as prairie dogs, squirrels, and even chickens convey not only emotion but also information in their complexly differentiated alarm cries for the presence of predators.

Acknowledging only one model of intelligence and communication ― that of Homo sapiens ― scientists have argued, since animals don’t speak or reason like we do, they don’t have minds at all. In expecting animals to satisfy human criteria of language and intelligence, scientists have, after all, succumbed to the dreaded sin of anthropomorphism. But anthropomorphism need not be a scientific sin. Clearly, we don’t want to project onto animals characteristics they don’t have. But if there are core commonalities between nonhuman and human animals, what Gordon Burghardt calls “critical anthropomorphism”, is our best access to understanding animals, and “objective detachment” will block insight every time.

It is not that many animal species cannot think, symbolize, and communicate in sophisticated ways, but that we could not figure out how to open th+eir minds to us and how to interpret their sounds and behaviors. It is crucial to emphasize that intelligence operates in forms other than human induction and deduction, and that meaning can be transmitted through gestures, expressions, sounds, and movements, and is not restricted to the conventions of human syntax, although monkeys understand basic rules of grammar.[24]

Even more devastating to human claims to singularity, many animals have a clear sense of morality, justice, and fair play.[25] Great apes, elephants, wolves, whales, dolphins, hyenas, rats, and mice are capable of a wide range of moral behavior. Many believed that only humans shared food, but bonobos and chimpanzees also enjoy this ritual. Animals are not merely self-interested, unreflective, non-feeling beings locked into a violent and competitive struggle for survival with one another, they have an empathetic and altruistic side. This is evident not in their capacity for grief, in interspecies care and nurturing, but in acts that risk their own lives to save the life of another. The empathetic capacity of animals was vividly demonstrated in one experiment in which hungry rhesus monkeys refused food if doing so meant another monkey would receive an electric shock.[26] Empathetic and altruistic actions suggest that animals should be viewed as moral agents who act with awareness, deliberation, care, and concern toward one another. The “gladiator view of life” was never one propounded by Darwin, who rather emphasized the evolutionary importance of cooperation as much as competition, as did Kropotkin’s important book, Ethics: Origin and Development.[27]

Far from being automatons governed by rigid biological imperatives and crude instincts, ethologists have shown that animals such as chimpanzees, monkeys, and dolphins form genuine cultures, whereby knowledge and behaviors are transmitted by teaching and learning rather than acquired through genetic inheritance.[28] In Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, Frans de Waal argues that “the great apes” (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas) laid the foundation for many human behavioral and familial dynamics. Both he and Jane Goodall conclude that chimpanzee societies demand complex social skills far beyond that allowed by behaviorism. Their world is governed not only by instincts and chemicals, but also through rules and norms. Like us, they live in a culture of shared communication and learning that is passed down from generation to generation. The intelligence of primates is not innate and fixed, but rather, like ours, an important part is socially constructed in the context of culture and technological innovation.[29]

Chimpanzees, rhesus monkeys, dolphins, elephants, and other nonhuman species are not just animals, they are political animals, and quite cunning and Machiavellian ones at that, who fight for foods, space, sex, and power and social status.[30] In their political lives, they make conscious decisions and strategic choices, and through sounds, groupings, alliances, and giving or withdrawing of support even make collective votes. Humans did not invent power politics. Much light can be shed on human behavior once we drop the singularity thesis and relate humans to their primate ancestors. Humans did not invent morality and justice, for instance, these social behaviors evolved in an evolutionary context that long preceded human origins. By looking at nature through the distorting lens of speciesism, and in ignorance of contemporary scientific developments, one cannot possibly understand either human or nonhuman animals in any adequate way.

Closing Walls and Conceptual Claustrophobia

“Humans ―who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals—have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and “animals” is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them—without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret (…) They are just too much like us.”  Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

The rigid boundaries between human animal and nonhuman animal keep shrinking as it becomes increasingly obvious that Homo sapiens is not a monad, ruggedly independent, or a God above, but rather part of a vast, differentiated evolutionary continuum. The rich science of cognitive ethology supports Darwin’s theory that humans differ from animals in degree, not kind, such that human forms of thinking, self-awareness, intentionality, communication, language, and social interaction are products of evolution that stem from our primate ancestors and are shared by numerous other species to varying degrees. “Human intelligence,” note Dickie and Roth, “may be best likened to an upgrade of the cognitive capacities of nonhuman primates rather than an exceptionally advanced form of cognition.”[31] The false dualisms and synthetic walls separating humans and other sentient species are tumbling down, and we cannot put the Cartesian figure of Humpty Dumpty back again.

Only humans, we thought, experience a deep and broad range of emotions, such as love, joy, grief, jealousy, and embarrassment. But science has demonstrated these same feelings among many animal species. Mammals possess a limbic system and neocortex, the functions that enable human beings to experience emotions and have abstract thoughts. All mammals possess oxytocin, a hormone involved in the experience of pleasure during sex and that plays a key role in mother-infant bonding. Female bonobos and chimpanzees have been seen to put dead rats on their heads and “primp” themselves in the mirror, suggesting that even fashion and vanity are not unique to humans. Humans alone, we have been told repeatedly, grieve over and bury their dead in some type of ritualized ceremony, yet grief and mourning emotions exist in many animals and elephants enact burial rites for their dead.

For millennia, it was thought that only humans ― Homo faber ― make and use tools, until recent discoveries that chimpanzees, birds, and other species do also (e.g., chimpanzees use sticks to extract termites from their mounds, apply stones to crack open palm nuts, and craft spears to kill bush babies). In February 2007, a stunning study documented the methodical ways in which chimpanzees use self-fashioned spears to hunt bush babies (as if not interesting enough, the report also showed that it was only females who make and use the wooden spears).

The dogma that only humans ― Homo loquens ― have complex forms of language and communication prevailed until it became clear that chimpanzees, dolphins, whales, prairie dogs, and other animals do as well. To disparage these as not “real” languages because they do speak human languages and allegedly have no sense of syntax or grammatical rules is question-begging and provincial in its definition of language and communication. Washoe, Koko, Kanzi, and other primates fluent in American Sign Language or other symbolic languages demonstrate that symbolic communication is not unique to human animals.[32]

With traits allegedly unique to humans running out, philosophers and scientists claimed that only humans have minds complex enough to allow a sense of self-consciousness or self-identity, but, alas, chimpanzees and other animals demonstrated significant degrees of self-consciousness too. Parallel to Levi-Strauss’ defense of the “savage” mind, which is no better or worse than the “civilized” mind, but rather a different incarnation of the same human capacity, so Marc Hauser argues that all animal brains have to cope with similar problems, and therefore each species has its own special “mental toolkits” for processing information about objects, number, and space, and so on.[33] Variations lead to differences among species, with Homo sapiens evolving toward an unprecedented complexity in many ways. Still, Hauser concludes, “We share the planet with thinking animals (…) Although the human mind leaves a characteristically different imprint on the planet, we are certainly not alone in this process.”[34]

Many claimed that only humans live in cultures, in which behaviors and norms are transmitted by learning rather than inheritance. A classic case is Murray Bookchin, a blatant speciesist (or “eco-humanist” as he sometimes called himself) who thought that if humans were gone nothing of interest would exist on this planet.[35] Bookchin relegates animals to “first nature,” along with rocks, trees, and other inorganic forms of matter without feelings, awareness, consciousness, and thought, and reserves the category of “second nature” for humans alone. Despite his salient emphasis on gradations of consciousness, subjectivity, and choice throughout biological and social evolution, Bookchin nonetheless constructs a static, dualistic, and overly-simplistic scheme which, in cut-and-dry fashion he sharply divides nonhuman and human animals, with the upshot, of course, of advancing another “enlightened” Leftist “moral philosophy” of animals that fails to rise above the hidebound welfare views voiced by every exploiter that impugn suffering but not killing, and “needless” cruelty but not exploitation, and the reduction of animals to commodities, resources, and things.

But Bookchin’s crude bifurcation between first and second nature, with humans representing the only form of “intelligence” (and not an impressive one at that!) on the Earth, has been refuted by science itself, which shows gradations, not a gulf, between nonhuman and human animal cultures. Like humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and other species also live within complex societies, whereby they formulate a technics and a moral outlook, and transmit knowledge through communication, teaching, and learning.[36] As de Wall demonstrates in vivid detail, chimpanzee societies are not instinct-driven, but rather rule-governed: chimps know what their place in the hierarchy is, what is expected of them, and when they consciously break the rules (such as when a subordinate male sneaks sex with the female of the alpha male).[37] They think and act in terms of conventions, hierarchy, rules, consequences of breaking rules, and mutualism.

In fact, chimpanzee societies are a likely source of human morality in their creation of a stable family life community, implicit moral rules defining expectations and obligations, looking after one another (e.g., by grooming and removing ticks from one other’s fur), and possessing a general community concern. “Human morality,” de Waal says, “can be looked at as [primate] community concern made explicit.”[38] Humans do not generate novel traits ex nihilo, but rather elaborate on preexisting dynamics they acquire from their great ape ancestors and many of which can be found in other animal species.

Thus, for millennia, the traits, qualities, and essences Western cultures attributed to humans alone and used to construct species identities were anchored in the sandy ground of bogus dualisms. In Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Sagan and Druyan enumerate over thirty characteristics that have been used to demarcate human identity apart from other animals, and show that every criterion of alleged human uniqueness is found also in chimpanzee cultures to some degree. As ethologist Jonathan Balcolmbe quips, “The once-long list of uniquely human traits is dwindling almost as fast as you can say «human supremacy.»”[39] Those trying to ascribe absolute differences between humans and nonhumans hobble on stilts of ignorance and run aground on clumsy dichotomies.

Rethinking Human “Uniqueness

“He whoI understands baboons would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Darwin

The much vaunted claim that humans are “unique” is uninteresting, uninformative, and tautological. Every species is unique, by definition: the hawk, the rattlesnake, the silverback Gorilla, the African elephant, and the ocelot are all unique in relation to one another. So humans are not even unique in being unique, this is a mundane biological property associated with natural selection and speciation.

The rationalist view of human beings as information processors whose choices and actions reflect preferences mediated and moderated by reason and logic is as false as the Cartesian and behaviorist views of animals as creatures of instinct and deep genetic programming devoid of intelligence and complex behaviors and social life. To be sure, in avoiding the fallacy of dualism, which radically separates human from “animal,” so we must avoid leaping to the opposite extreme and committing the fallacy of monism, whereby we reduce humans to the broad category of “animal” and lose the uniqueness and specificity of “human” characteristics and traits. But how “unique” are we? And what is the moral upshot of our specificity, such as it pertains to our self-assured right to exploit “inferior” animals for our “higher” purposes and “superior” nature?

Certainly, no other species, to my knowledge, has written sonnets or sonatas, solved algebraic equations, or meditated on the structure of the universe. There is no comparison between the counting skills of a bird and the mathematics of Einstein, between the rock used by a chimpanzee to crush a nut and the atom smashers devised by human engineers. But humans are not unique in their possession of a neocortex; of complex emotions like love, loneliness, empathy, and shame; of sophisticated languages, behaviors, and communities; and even of aesthetic and moral sensibilities. Human beings stand out in the degree to which they have developed capacities and potential for reason, language, consciousness, aesthetics, ethics, culture, and technology far beyond chimpanzees and other animals.

Not only do nonhuman animals have culture, art, technology, and morality, they invented them (or were active agents of their development) within their social context, environmental conditions and constraints, and evolutionary dynamics. Humans are animals and any human capacity or potential pre-existed in other animals, and humans could only enjoy these capacities as they do because of the vast sweep of evolutionary development and animal dynamics that existed prior to Homo sapiens and our ancient ancestors. Humans are ingrates who withhold due credit to their primate and animal ancestors for “human” traits; in a perverse irony characteristic of a self-serving, violent species always in bad faith, humans deny these traits ― even in some rudimentary form ― to nonhuman animals in order to legitimate the exploitation and extermination of fellow beings, all perfectly legal in the global speciesist system that views animals as property, resources, and commodities, and little else.

Before going too far down the road of human singularity, let us not forget that nonhuman animals have traits that humans do not have and, indeed, that they sometimes possess these in more advanced form. Just as so often animals are faster, stronger, and more agile and graceful than humans, so in some ways they are smarter and morally superior. The speciesist assumption is that the dumbest human is more intelligent than the smartest animal. Yet African Gray parrots, pigeons, and chimpanzees easily outperform children and adults alike in numerical, memory, spatial, and categorization![40] Further, one might consider animals morally superior in the sense that they often exhibit more kindness and altruism than humans and rarely engage in organized violence, systematic cruelty and torture, warfare, and mass killing. Animals prey on, eat, and kill one another, but, with the rare exception perhaps of chimpanzees ― not coincidentally our closest biological relatives ― they are not pathologically obsessed with control, power, domination, violence, killing, warfare, status, and wealth.

Human beings are bipedal, big-brained, language-using, toolmaking mammals; they are descendents of apes, who acquired sophisticated reasoning and linguistic skills. Humans belong in the same genera as other apes, for after chimpanzees and bonobos we are the “third chimpanzee” (Diamond). Humans are the sole heir of their Genus: the species Homo sapiens sapiens (humans in their most recent form) that distinguished itself 40,000-50,000 years ago with its enlarged brain, advanced technologies, and ruthless penchant for violence, aggression, and war. We current humans, then, are descendents of the “winners” of an evolutionary competition in which Neanderthals and other humans or human-like species were the “losers,” and countless nonhuman animal species were bludgeoned into extinction along the path of our fabled “ascent” to the “top of the food chain” and the sovereign kings overseeing the Earth and their animal servants.

The definition of humanity usually produces paeans of cultural brilliance through millennia of myth, religion, philosophy, art, music, literature, dance, architecture, and science. The praise of humanity’s multi-faceted achievements is well-deserved, but this stunning radiance also has a macabre and dark side that is an inseparably part of human history and nature; it involves an equally long history of violence, warfare, massacres, genocide, hierarchy, domination, colonization, environmental destruction, and extermination of other species. Astonishingly, the very same species that produced rock paintings in the caves of Lascaux, the Parthenon, Hamlet, the Sistine Chapel, and the Eroica Symphony also operated the ovens of Dachau, dropped atomic weapons on civilian populations in Japan, and fertilized the killing fields of Cambodia with bones and blood. As Homo ambiguous, we are a Janus-faced species capable of good and evil, creativity and destruction.

Homo sapiens is a brash, brilliant, arrogant, and violent species that has evolved rapidly and grown exponentially. In the short time of its existence, human beings have colonized the earth; they have depleted its resources, decimated other species, mowed down its rainforests, denuded its land, befouled its air and water, and even altered its global temperature. From precarious origins on the African continent to global domination, humans survived ― whether due to superior intelligence, ability to adapt, or just ruthless cunning and conquering ― where other Homo species perished. Moving from prey to predator, from hunted to hunter, human populations grew, expanded, and swarmed planet Earth, as they now embark on the project of terraforming other planets to carry their evolutionary adventure into the infinite depths of space, just as the ground is crumbling everywhere around them on terra firma.

In the era of planetary ecological crisis signaled by phenomena such as species extinction, rainforest destruction, desertification, resource shortages, and global warming, the advanced intelligence that inspired the appellation “wise man” turns this marker into a satire or tragic irony. If intelligence and wisdom entails the ability to survive, exercise foresight, and adapt to one’s environment, then dolphins, whales, and countless other species are far more intelligent than human beings. Dinosaurs lived for hundreds of millions of years, and Homo erectus endured for over a million years, but Homo sapiens sapiens, after only fifty thousand years of existence, may not survive another thousand years, or even another century or two.

For all their sophistication, human beings are still primitive animals. Their neocortex ― the seat of language, creativity, and abstract thinking ― rests on the ancient limbic and reptilian areas of the brain that evolved millions of years before reason and still condition thought and behavior. Humanity’s fancy philosophies and social contract theories are erected upon social relations and behaviors established by their primate ancestors. All too often, humans are guided by “jungle” directives, unable to develop compassion, to cooperate, to share, to create community, to co-exist with otherness, to use reason, and to resolve conflicts with dialogue and negotiation rather than through war and violence. However influential their sophisticated social norms, conventional rituals, and cultural overlay, humans remain primates who carry within them a long evolutionary history shaped by natural selection, tribalism, and survival-oriented xenophobia predicated on the dichotomy between “Us” and “Them.”

Whether cooperating with one another, adhering to the Golden Rule, or forming gangs and waging war, our primate past could well be an influencing factor and rather than prohibit consideration of it as politically incorrect and “reactionary,” it is far more important we confront it head-on in order to develop new behaviors and learning strategies that can at least dampen some of our primordial Machiavellian machinations and proclivities toward aggression, power, and hierarchical control, as well as temper any utopian fantasies about perfectly harmonious and peaceful societies, and the socialist “human engineering” programs that often have accompanied these Rousseauian visions.[41]

Animals: The Missing Element in the Radical Equation

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

After successive intellectual revolutions and paradigm shifts over the last few centuries, Homo sapiens has been knocked off its pedestal repeatedly, and now flails about in the winds of uncertainty and the tempests of irrevocable change, whipped up all the more powerfully by scientific breakthroughs and technological revolutions.

We cannot overlook an amazing paradox. It is an odd but revealing phenomenon that a species which so arrogantly prides itself in its alleged unique skills in reason and communication has not yet attained an accurate understanding of itself. This advanced “intelligence” of humans, moreover, is in the advanced stages of exterminating our closest biological relatives, along with millions of other animal and plant species, thereby ensuring that Homo sapiens will die as it was born ― in ignorance of its own nature and the other animal species vital for an accurate self-understanding.

“Throughout recorded history,” Armesto rightly notes, “almost every supposedly distinguishing feature by which humans have identified and differentiated themselves from other creatures, classified as non-human, turns out to be mistaken or misleading.”[42] Humans have clouded the analysis of their nature with irrational beliefs, religious fictions, primitive mythologies, God-complexes, narcissism, logical fallacies, philosophical illusions, and scientific dogmas. Speciesism, carnivorism, patriarchy, rationalism, Social Darwinism, Eurocentrism and other ideologies emanating from hierarchical thinking and social institutions have created a distorted view of history and of human nature, and of animals and the Earth as well. Although recent advances in science and scholarship have refuted numerous myths about human nature and nonhuman animals as well, falsehoods persist because they promote elitist agendas, stroke the frail human ego, comfort human vanity, reinforce anthropocentrism, and, certainly, promote and legitimate the agendas of animal exploitation industries whose filthy lucre is derived from the blood and suffering of tens of billions of animals every year, a number that tragically continues to rise in numerous sectors, including vivisection and ― above all ― consumption of animals for food.

Traditionally, the riddle of human existence has been pondered through mythology and religion; today, however, we know that an adequate understanding of human nature depends on science. Although modern science ― like religion, philosophy, and literature throughout Western history ― has itself perpetuated pernicious errors and myths about human and nonhuman animals alike, this is beginning to change in certain sectors of knowledge. In recent decades, there have been dramatic breakthroughs in science that have advanced understanding of human evolutionary history, the development and nature of nonhuman animal species, and ecological systems. Molecular biology, anthropology, paleontology, genetics, and other scientific disciplines, as well as sophisticated computer technologies are revolutionizing our self-image through more accurate glimpses into the history and structure of life.

Ethology in particular has been progressive and liberating. It has shattered Cartesian and behaviorist views of animals as machines or simple pre-programmed organisms devoid of thought or intentionality, and is only now liberating us from the pre-scientific era of understanding animals. During the European “Age of Discovery,” “civilized” society debated whether the island peoples seen by Columbus were fully human and equipped with minds and souls, and whether African pygmies were human or sub-human in nature. From our “enlightened” and “progressive” positions in the twenty-first century, we may laugh at the racism and ignorance of such views, without appreciating the fact that until only a few decades ago, scientists and philosophers looked upon animals with similar crudeness, ignorance, bias, and a discriminatory speciesism as illicit and menacing as colonial racism.

Once we see what flimsy, fallacious, and corrupt constructs anthropocentrism and speciesism are, and how they are deeply embedded into the philosophies, values, and narratives of Western “civilization,” including the “radical alternatives” to modern capitalism, we can begin to grasp their destructive effects and implications. The systemic institutional changes needed to avert social and ecological catastrophe must be accompanied by a parallel conceptual revolution that involves the construction of new values and species identities.[43] Ethically progressive and truly inclusive, the new outlook ― not only post-capitalist, but also post-anthropocentric, post-speciesist, and post-humanist ― would also be scientifically valid, by accurately representing the true place of Homo sapiens in the sentient and ecological communities in which it finds itself enmeshed.

Although an intellectual avant-garde is pulling humanity out of the quicksand of ignorance, unenlightened views persist throughout all sectors of society and on the whole we are still in the Dark Ages of understanding other species and ourselves as well. While painful enough to contemplate the illiteracy and ignorance of the general population ― such that, for example, the majority of citizens in the US believe in angels, the Devil, and creationism ― it is particularly disturbing to see virtually all sectors of “progressive” liberal and Left cadres holding atavistic moral and scientific views toward nonhuman animals, as they lay claim to being the most “progressive,” “enlightened,” and secular sectors of society and who traditionally have championed science over dogma, superstition, and religion.

If humans have for so long failed to understand animal minds it is because their own stupidity, insensitivity, and deep speciesist bias have for so long blinded them. But now the blinders are coming off, and it is time Leftists take their own off and wake up to the fact of the ethological revolution and its profound implications for human identity, our moral relationships to nonhuman animals, and to politics. While it took the Left a good century to catch onto the importance of ecology, and to begin merging concerns such as justice and autonomy to sustainability and ecology, the Left has consistently devalued or ignored the plight of animals, failing to understand this as a profound moral issue in its own right, and as an indispensible lens for understanding the current global social and ecological crisis.

There can be no full and adequate debate of the systemic problems of capitalist society, of the origins and dynamics of hierarchy, and of a future rational, autonomous, ethical and ecological society until we address the ten thousand year legacy of speciesism and the domestication and exploitation of human over animal. We cannot understand instrumentalism, hierarchical domination (whereby separation of human from animal provided the philosophical basis to deny women and people of color rational and human status), or the current ecological crisis without engaging speciesism and the domination of humans over animals.

Until the Left engages the “animal question,” in short, it cannot reclaim the mantle of progressive thinking in the moral and scientific realms; it cannot advance the development of new values and identities; it cannot understand the origins and dynamics of hierarchy. Much of this work can begin once the Left overcomes the last remaining socially acceptable form of prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, violence, and mass slaughter ― such as stems from and is legitimated by speciesism ― and begins to address the scientific findings, and moral implications of, cognitive ethology.

By ignoring this recent and profoundly important scientific revolution, one that has direct moral implications and carries the potential for a new enlightenment and a comprehensive ethics of life, the Left has forfeited any claim it could possibly have to moral leadership, progressive values, and radical politics; it has become increasingly obvious that the deficiencies of Leftist thought toward the animal question vitiate its ability to address pressing social and environmental crises. And this is a tragic loss, for only radical theorizing and revolutionary politics of social movement can steer us out of the crisis that threatens humans too with extinction, but it is one that must grasp the systemic connections linking the exploitation and devastation of humans, nonhumans, and the Earth.


[1] On recent scientific and technological revolutions and their implications for human identity, see Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, The Postmodern Adventure: Science and Technology Studies at the Third Millennium (New York: Guilford Press, 2001). This essay was first publushed in The Journal for Inclusive Denocracy, Volume 5, #21, Spring 2009.

[2] On the importance of mediating and combining animal, human, and Earth liberation movements into one “total liberation” struggle, see Steven Best, Animal Liberation and Moral Progress: The Struggle for Human Evolution (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, forthcoming).

[3] For a powerful analysis of the origins of hierarchy in the transition from hunting and gathering tribes to agricultural society, and the crucial role of the “animal question,” see Jim Mason, An Unnatural Order: Roots of Our Destruction of Nature (New York: Lantern Books, 2005).

[4] David Ehrenfeld provides a classic and still valuable critique of humanism in his book, The Arrogance of Humanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).

[5] Bruce Mazlish, The Fourth Discontinuity (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993).

[7] J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into its Origin and Growth (New York: Dover Publications, 1960: 160-161).

[8] See Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines. When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999); and Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).

[9] In The Postmodern Adventure, Kellner and I sketch the possibility of a fifth discontinuity that could emerge either from the possibility of a superior alien intelligence or from genetic engineering of advanced posthuman types.

[10] Richard Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Toward Speciesism (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000: 247).

[11] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Humankind: A Brief History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004: 62).

[12] Richard Corbey, The Metaphysics of Apes: Negotiating the Animal-Human Boundary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). The citation is from his summary of this book at:

[13] Armesto, Humankind, p. 130.

[14] See “Chimps genetically close to humans,” BBC News (Tuesday, 20 May, 2003),

[15] Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992).

[16] Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri, The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).

[17] See Donald Griffin, Animal Thinking (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984); and Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

[18] In a review of Griffin’s Animal Thinking, E. A. Wasserman concluded, “No statement concerning consciousness in animals is open to verification and experimentation” (cited in Griffin, Animal Minds, p. 147). This is simply false, for the ethological literature abounds with examples of ingenious experiments which have been designed to test the emotional sensitivities and intelligence of animals. Marc Hauser’s book, Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think, discusses experimental designs where hypotheses about animal emotions and minds are confirmed, refuted, or left uncertain.

[19] See Roger Fouts, Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are (New York: William Morro and Company, 1997); Frans de Wall, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989); and Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996); Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorry, and Empathy – and Why They Matter (Novato, California: New World Library, 2007); and Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, 2007); Steve Wise, Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals (Perseus Books: Cambridge, Mass., 2000); and Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights (Perseus Books: Cambridge, Mass. 2002).

[20] See John T. Bonner, The Evolution of Culture in Animals (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980).

[21] Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (New York: Delacorte Press, 1995).

[22] See, for instance, Rebecca Morelle, “Birds show off their dance moves,” BBC News (April 30, 2009),

[23] See Irene Maxine Pepperberg, The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999).

[24] See “Monkeys ‘grasp basic grammar,’” BBC News (January 22, 2004), Among the most remarkable forms of communication is how elephants transmit meanings through vibrations in the Earth which they “hear” with their feet. On how bonobos and chimps communicate through gestures, see Rowan Hooper, “Bonobos and chimps `speak’ with gestures,” (April 30, 2007),

[25] See David Whitehouse, “Monkeys show sense of justice,” BBC News (September 17, 2003),; and Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

[26] See Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993). There is a vast literature on the empathetic and caring aspects of animal life, such that “anecdotal evidence” eventually adds up to a verified truth. Thanks to You Tube, we also have a bank of video evidence of such instance, including videos of a crow caring for a kitten, a dog running into freeway traffic to save another dog already hit, and a massive tiger running to greet a human companion from which he was separated for many years.

[27] Peter Kropotkin, Ethics: Origin and Development (Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 1992).

[28] See “Chimps are cultured creatures,” BBC News (June 16, 1999),

[29] See Barbara Smuts, “Orangutan Technology: How did the great apes get to be so smart?” Scientific American (November 22, 2004),

[30] See Frans de Wall, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes; Dario Maestripieri, Machiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); and Natalie Angier, “Political Animals (Yes, Animals),” The New York Times (January 28, 2008),

[31] See Ursula Dickie and Gerard Roth, “Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of the Human Mind,” Scientific American (August 2008),

[32] See Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994).

[33] See Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); and Marc D. Hauser, Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000).

[34] Hauser, p. 257.

[35] Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Berkeley, California: AK Press, 2005).

[36] See Eytan Avital and Eva Jablonka, Eva, Animal Traditions: Behavioural Inheritance in Evolution (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). A famous example of animal culture is the case of the macaque monkeys on the island of Koshima. In 1950, Japanese sociologists witnessed how one monkey discovered the benefits of washing sweet potatoes in a stream, a practice which other monkeys adopted and continues to this day. As documented by video cameras, chimpanzees teach the signs to their young and even use them expressively apart from the company of their human “teachers.” In another example of cultural transmission of knowledge, blue tit birds learned that milk bottles a new source of food from observing one another and the behavior spread all across England. Finally, studies have shown that dolphins in Australia use sea sponges to protect their snouts when foraging, and teach this practice to their young [see Rowan Hooper, “Dolphins teach their children to use sponges.” (June 2005),].

[37] See de Wall, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes, and Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals.

[38] Frans de Wall, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, p. 207.

[39] Jonathan Balcolmbe, cited in, “They think, feel pain,”

[40] See George Page, Inside the Animal Mind: A Groundbreaking Exploration of Animal Intelligence (New York: Doubleday, 1999); Michael Hanlon, “The disturbing question posed by IQ tests – are chimps cleverer than us?” Daily Mail (December 5, 2007),–chimps-cleverer-us.html#; Christine Kenneally, “Animals and Us, Not So Far Apart,” The Washington Post (April 13, 2008).; and “Still dumber than a chimpanzee,” New (February 13, 2009),

[41] See Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999).

[42]Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Humankind: A Brief History, p. 12.

[43] On revolutionary social and institutional change, see Takis Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project (London: Continuum Publishing, 1997).


The “culture turn” is a dynamic process that since the nineteenth century has unfolded in the worlds of theory, art, and politics. The reference to a “culture turn” captures a widespread movement – played out differently in various disciplines, nations, and traditions – that emphasizes the importance of art and culture for education, moral growth, and social criticism and change. By the 1980s, this development led to an explosion in forms of “cultural studies,” “identity politics,” and “multiculturalism” in response to changes in the structure of capitalism and relationships among economic, cultural, and political institutions.

While the term “culture” is notoriously vague and complex, one might define it as the social process whereby people communicate meanings, make sense of their world, construct their identities, and define their beliefs and values. Far broader than the arts, culture is rather the entire field and process of symbol interaction, communication, and technologies through which people define and express themselves. Since its inception in ancient Greece, Western society has sharply distinguished culture from “nature” – a category that includes the physical world, nonhuman animals, and often human groups (e.g., Blacks, Jews, and women) viewed as “savage,” “barbaric,” or “subhuman.” Westerners – specifically, white, male, European elites – defined culture in opposition to nature. This binary logic was employed in order to construct human identity (by virtue of an alleged essence of “rationality”) as radically distinct from animals, to fulfill (European) humanity’s self-ascribed mission or purpose to conquer nature and establish “civilization,” and to assert their professed superiority to other groups marked as the “Other” in opposition to their role as Subject.

There are two broad ways to approach the study of culture. According to the idealist outlook that prevailed from Plato to Hegel in the nineteenth century, culture is defined as an ideal realm of thought and meaning independent of social dynamics and/or the vicissitudes of history. While societies may differ and change, metaphysical and moral standards of “truth” abide as eternal and universal ideals. Idealist outlooks failed to recognize that all forms of thought and culture change over time and are contingent constructs of their social context. Culture is a social and historical product that changes in relation to shifting material dynamics. As Louis Dupre deconstructs the universal biases and ahistorical and asocial ideology of idealism, “the very concept of culture as a realm of values independent of social-economic structures, into which man ‘withdraws` from his daily occupations, is an ideology that could only arise in a compartmentalized society” (cited in Adamson 1985, p. 32).

In direct opposition to this idealist model, the materialist definition emerged in the mid-nineteenth century with the philosophy of Karl Marx. Reversing the logic of idealism, Marx argued that consciousness does not determine social being, rather social being determines consciousness. Fundamentally, human existence is rooted in the economic dynamics of trade, markets, and production. As soon as surplus production emerges in history, Marx argued, social classes arise and the struggle for power and resources becomes the driving force and “motor” of history. By way of a problematic architectural metaphor, Marx views production, economics, and technology as the “base” of society upon which all forms of thought, culture, politics, and law arise as a related “superstructure.” The ruling ideas of society are those of the ruling class, and they comprise an “ideology” – broadly, a conceptual outlook or worldview — that advances elite interests and justifies class domination as good, natural, and the only possible social arrangement. But the dominant class worldview, Marx noted, is a biased distortion of reality and becomes a “false consciousness” for those who uncritically accept it as given, factual, and true. In reference to a key element of capitalist ideology, Marx described how the vast machinery of production spawns a “commodity fetishism” whereby objects (commodities) take on human-like qualities (assuming an apparent life of their own) and subjects (workers) become more and more like things integrated into technological systems. Bourgeois economists, themselves deluded by this alien “topsy-turvy” world, treated the commodity as if it were independent of social relationships and capitalist exploitation.

Marx’s often subtle analyses of the reciprocal interaction between the economic-technological “base” and the cultural-political “superstructure” were reduced to simplistic and reductionist formulas by many “Marxists” who failed to grasp the “relative autonomy” of culture and politics from capitalist imperatives (see Best 1995). For the “vulgar” or “mechanistic” form of Marxism, such as the official philosophy of  the Second (1889-1916) and Third International (1919-1943) (including theorists like Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov), issues related to art, culture, ideology, and everyday life were ignored, trivialized, or simplified through the focus on economics and class struggle.  In a fairly automatic manner, it was supposed, the inherent contradictions of capitalism and “laws of history” would lead to socialist revolution. Consequently, in Russia, China, and other communist societies, cultural questions were subordinated to work; ideology critique was devalued in favor of the “scientific” laws studied by “dialectical materialism”; concerns with subjectivity and everyday life were denounced as “bourgeois”; avant-garde modernist styles were pilloried as “decadent”; the sensuous and affective power of art was shunned as a threat to repressive asceticism and puritanical ideals; and “authentic” art was defined in terms of “socialist realism” that mythically glorified workers and reduced art to mere propaganda.

Beginning in the 1920s, Georg Lukács, Karl Korsch, and Antonio Gramsci renounced economism and scientism and emphasized the importance of subjectivity, culture, and ideology critique. They thereby inaugurated the fertile tradition of “Western Marxism” that defined itself in contrast to the sclerotic dogmas of Soviet Marxism. Western Marxists rejected the assumption that social change would come automatically through the “laws of history” and that revolution was possible without specific strategies to change and radicalize the consciousness of workers. Merging Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism and Max Weber’s theory of rationalization, Lukács (1975) analyzed how commodity exchange had become the central organizing principle of twentieth century capitalism, permeating education, law, and culture generally. Such conditions hardly guaranteed the emergence of a revolutionary proletariat, but rather necessitated strategies to actively forge a revolutionary “class consciousness” through radical art, culture, and education. Similarly, Karl Korsch (1972) responded to the vulgarization of Marxism with a call to reestablish its philosophical relation to Hegel and to initiate a substantive political education of the working class before they could lead a successful revolution. Gramsci (1971) emphasized that the ruling class achieved dominance not only through coercion (e.g., violent attacks on striking workers), but also through consensus whereby people give assent to the powers that oppress them, viewing them as legitimate and inalterable. To undo the stranglehold of “cultural hegemony” disseminated through compulsory schooling, mass media, and popular culture, and to prepare the way for a mass insurrection, Gramsci sought to initiate a “counter-hegemony” struggle through radical education, interventions in capitalist-controlled media, and forging new cultures.

The critical rethinking process launched by Western Marxists was developed in fruitful ways by the “Frankfurt School.” Beginning in 1923, theorists including Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, Erich Fromm, and Walter Benjamin formed the “Institute for Social Research” (see Wiggershaus 1994). The Frankfurt School abandoned the ahistorical, positivist, and disciplinary outlook of mainstream philosophy and social science in favor of a historical, critical, and interdisciplinary approach that analyzed the interrelationships among culture, technology, and the capitalist economy. Frankfurt School theorists synthesized political economy, sociology, history, and philosophy, with the first modern “cultural studies” that analyzed the social and ideological effects of mass culture and communications. Against staid, pseudo-objective forms of “traditional theory,” the Frankfurt School developed a “critical theory” distinguished by its practical and radical objective, namely, to emancipate human beings from conditions of domination. Recognizing the limitations of “orthodox” or “classical” Marxism, Frankfurt theorists developed a “neo-Marxist” orientation that retained basic Marxist theoretical and political premises, but supplemented the critique of capitalism with other perspectives, thereby spawning hybrid theories such as Freudo-Marxism, Marxist-feminism, and Marxist-existentialism.

With the menacing rise of Hitler and Nazism, Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse fled Germany and settled in the United States. They analyzed how the US itself was becoming totalitarian with the rise of state-monopoly capitalism and the role played by mass culture and ideology in stabilizing crisis tendencies and shaping consent to domination. Moving from the control of production to the management of consumption, from the workplace to the home space and everyday life, capitalism had penetrated virtually all aspects of society and personal existence. Against the nightmarish backdrop of world wars, totalitarian communism, fascism, monopoly capitalism, new forms of social control, and the cooptation of the working class, Frankfurt School theorists were understandably pessimistic.

Thus, in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972), Adorno and Horkheimer argued that the powers of modern rationality, science, and technology championed by Enlightenment thinkers and Marxists led to domination not liberation. Building on a nineteenth century critique of “low culture,” extending Marx and Lukacs’s analysis of commodity fetishism, and developing Gramsci’s concept of culture as a form of hegemony, Adorno and Horkheimer described how culture had become integrated into the economy and a new “culture industry” emerged. An apparent oxymoron, their notion of “culture industry” showed how capitalism had colonized culture and everyday life, how the integrity and uniqueness of an artwork became obliterated in conditions of mass production, how the intrinsic value of expression was reduced to the extrinsic value of profit, and how culture weakened and pacified rather than stimulated and fortified the mind.

During the 1930s and 1940s there were lively debates among Adorno, Lukács, Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht and others on whether art could still be a vehicle of criticism, education, and change;  if so, the question shifted to which aesthetic forms or styles were best suited to this purpose. Whereas Benjamin (1969) analyzed how the art work has lost its aura in “conditions of mass production and reproduction,” but argued that mass media had the potential to democratize culture and promote critical thinking, Adorno thought this process spelled the collapse of critical distance and the cooptation of oppositional politics – a key concern of later postmodernists (see below). Doubting the effectiveness of realism or overtly political art such as Lukács and Brecht promoted, Adorno argued in favor of radical modernist and avant-garde styles, such as novels of Franz Kafka or the plays of Samuel Beckett, which he believed alone could provoke critical consciousness.

But this last-ditch hope too was dashed with the implosion of “high” and “low” art and the commodification ad cooptation of modernism itself. By the 1950s, the cubist prostitutes of Picasso and the starry nights of Van Gogh fetched tens of millions of dollars on the burgeoning art market, the works of Kafka and Beckett were standard university seminar fare, the anti-art gestures of Dadaism were institutionalized within museum parlors, and the jarring images of surrealism served the ends of advertising.

Amidst these conditions, Marcuse (1974, 2006) depicted Western capitalist societies as totally administrated systems populated by one-dimensional conformists. By spreading cultural narcotics and binding desire to consumption, capitalism had succeeded in bringing about a “socially engineered arrest of consciousness.” In the 1960s, however, with the emergence of “new social movements” (e.g., Blacks, youth, women, peace, and anti-nuclear groups) Marcuse (1971) gained renewed hope for social revolution via a “Great Refusal” of capitalism. In the spirit of Western Marxism, Marcuse emphasized the need to change the subjective conditions of life (e.g., needs, desires, sensibilities, and the imagination) as much as the objective conditions of society (e.g., economics, politics, and law). He thereby advanced a cultural politics that emphasized the crucial role that critical and oppositional art could play in individual and social transformation.

By this time, the Frankfurt School had shaped a broad and fertile field of Marxist-oriented cultural studies, or simply “Cultural Marxism.” One important offshoot of this development was British Cultural Studies. Beginning in the 1950’s, theorists such as Raymond Williams, Richard +Hoggart, and E.P. Thompson analyzed the significance of working-class cultures in Britain and the negative effects of mass culture. In 1964, Hoggart and Stuart Hall founded the “Birmingham School” of cultural studies. Like the Frankfurt School, Birmingham theorists employed an interdisciplinary approach to study the ideological effects of mass culture and communications. Unlike the Frankfurt School, however, the Birmingham Centre emphasized not only capitalist domination, but also widespread resistance to oppression. Hebdidge (1979), for instance, explored how subcultures subverted social codes to generate their own meaning and symbols, as Hall (1980) – a pioneer of “reception theory” – analyzed how people actively “decoded” signs and messages “encoded” in cultural “texts” (e.g., films, fashion, paintings, television programs).

Whereas Frankfurt theorists (with exceptions such as Benjamin) dichotomized high and low culture, largely ignored popular culture except to treat it as capitalist ideology, and Adorno focused on the critical potential of the avant-garde, British theorists studied popular culture and emphasized the dialectic of domination and resistance. The Frankfurt School abandoned hope for the working class as a source of emancipatory change, as British cultural studies valorized youth and workers for their ability to resist ideological power and to create their own style and identities. But if the Frankfurt School focused on political economy and “hegemony” at the expense of lived experience, active subversion of the dominant culture, and “counter-hegemony,” British cultural studies went too far in abstracting culture from political economy and exaggerated the significance of “resistance” – a marked feature of contemporary culture studies (Kellner 1997). If the Frankfurt School focused on the avant-garde at the expense of popular culture, British cultural studies concentrated on popular culture without engaging the political possibilities of avant-garde art (see Adamson 2007).

In addition to Germany, the US, and England, there were crucial developments in France, where numerous sociologists and philosophers attempted to mediate determinist or functionalist views of social institutions (that over-emphasized the determinant power of “structure”) and idealist or volunteerist concepts of culture and subjectivity (that exaggerated the role of “agency”). Pierre Bourdieu (1977) stressed the active role of subjects in the production and reproduction of the rules, habits, and dispositions of their lives; Michel de Certeau (1974) analyzed how individuals appropriate and subvert mass culture through “tactics of consumption” to claim their autonomy from social forces; and Henri Lefebvre (1971, 1992) engaged the impoverishment of daily existence in capitalism and broadened Marxist theory into analyses of the city, the urbanization of society, and the politics of social space in general. Guy Debord (1976) and the Situationist International theorized how consumer capitalism, mass media and entertainment, and the proliferation of images and signs generated a “society of the spectacle” that pacified individuals, such as Jean Baudrillard (1983) argued led to a “hyperreality” that blurred the boundaries between illusion and reality. But whereas Debord looked to the capitalist social relations obscured by the fetishized appearances of commodity-images, Baudrillard claimed reality was irrecoverably lost. If Debord and the Situationists posited the “constructed situation” as the antidote to the spectacle, using experiments in radical cultural politics to reawaken revolutionary agency, Baudrillard proclaimed the triumph of objects over subjects, the demise of revolutionary dreams, and the “end of history” in spent social conditions where nothing new could emerge and one can only “play with the pieces” of the past.  

Baudrillard exemplified the jaded “postmodern condition” (Lyotard 1984) premised on the “suspicion” of “metanarratives” – whether Christianity, Hegelianism, Marxism, or Bourgeois Progressivism – that view history as the realization of Freedom or Progress. Indeed, by 1960, there was already a widespread sense within the art world that modernism was over, that it had exhausted itself and done all that could be done (Best and Kellner 1991, 1997). A “new sensibility” (Irving Howe) emerged in criticism and the arts that expressed dissatisfaction with modernism. Seen as stale, boring, pretentious, elitist, and alienating, European and American high modernism were rejected in favor of new attitudes and styles. The new postmodern sensibilities and aesthetic forms spread like wildfire, erupting in the novels of William Burroughs and John Barth, the music of John Cage, the pop-art paintings of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, the architecture of Robert Venturi and Philip Johnson, as well as dance, film, photography, and the creation of new forms such as happenings, performance art, multi-media installations, and computer art.

The postmodern turn in the arts maintained some links to earlier aesthetic traditions while also breaking in key ways from bourgeois elitism, high modernism, and the avant-garde. Like modernism and the avant-garde, postmodernists reject realism, mimesis, and linear forms of narrative. But while modernists championed the autonomy of art and excoriated mass culture as bland gruel for a crude majority, postmodernists rejected elitism and embraced the implosion of “high” and “low” cultural forms in an affirmative pluralism and populism. Rather than snobbishly dismiss popular culture, postmodernists embraced it and assimilated its images and influences into their work. While modernists attempted to create monumental works and to forge a unique style, and avant-garde movements wanted to revolutionize art and society, many postmodernists were ironic, playful, and apolitical, eschewing concepts like genius, creativity, and even the author. While modernist works produced a wealth of complex meanings and interpretations, postmodern art was surface-oriented and renounced the attempt to produce and locate “deep meanings.” As evident in postmodern architecture, the quest for stylistic purity and minimalism gave way to eclecticism, such that the postmodern artist – as if to confirm Baudrillard’s eulogies for modernism – playfully and ironically played with past styles and forms.

In his seminal essay, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson (1984 and 1991) vividly describes the panoply of new attitudes, experiences, and cultural forms sweeping throughout American and European society. Among a many characteristics of postmodernism, Jameson singles out as especially +important “a new depthlessness, which finds its prolongation both in contemporary ‘theory’ and in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum” (1991: 6). Akin to the “rhizomatic” analyses of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1983), Jameson notes how postmodern culture ruptures narrative and decenters subjectivity in a “schizophrenic” dispersal of fragments. Individuals are overloaded with information, images, and the complexities of a vertiginous “hyperspace” that disables their ability to situate themselves within larger systems of meaning, thus demanding a new “cognitive mapping” of contemporary subjective, cultural, social, political, and economic conditions.

Although Jameson interprets postmodernism as the new “cultural dominant” that supersedes modernist forms and philosophies, his concept was less a stylistic marker than a periodizing device marking a new stage in the development of capitalism. Rejecting idealist approaches, Jameson relates changes in the cultural “superstructure” to shifts in the economic base, and thus interprets postmodernism as the “cultural logic of late capitalism.” Jameson reasserts the importance – indeed, primacy – of Marxism at the very moment others proclaimed its death (Baudrillard 1983) or attacked its “metanarrative” of history (Lyotard 1984). Postmodern culture, for Jameson, emerged as a product of a post- war society dominated by consumerism, mass media, images, advertising, information, computers, and the total commodification of life in a global capitalist market system. Indeed, because postmodernism is so intertwined with mass culture, media society, and capitalist markets, Jameson argues that the “critical distance” between culture and economics, the outsider and the insider, has been “abolished — an attitude voiced by many postmodern theorists and artists who saw no escaping the gravitational orbit of capitalist cooptation.

While such pessimistic discourses bear the marks of defeat in the aftermath of the 1960s (Best and Kellner 1991),  postmodernism is not a monolithic discourse, for along with the ludic artwork of Warhol or the nihilism of Baudrillard there were positive and political forms of postmodern art, theory, and politics that incorporated progressive elements of the 1960s. Thus, in addition to an apolitical, self-indulgent, or defeatist “postmodernism of reaction,” Hal Foster (1983) identified a competing “postmodernism of resistance,” such as one finds in the novels of Thomas Pynchon, the photography of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, and the postructuralist-inspired “radical democracy” of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (1985).

Political postmodernism is also expressed in various forms of “identity politics” and “multiculturalism.” In the transition from the “new social movements” of the 1960s to the identity politics of the 1980s, any semblance of unity or common vision fractured once women, people of color, gays and lesbians and others focused on their own “subject positions” as oppressed or underprivileged groups. Identity politics turned to the distinct history, culture, and consciousness of marginalized groups, who sought to avoid losing uniqueness to either the “melting pot” of US culture or the acid bath of Marxist politics that reduced all forms of oppression to class struggle. Many proponents of identity politics identified themselves as postmodernists and thus — congruent with the postmodern theories of Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Richard Rorty, and others  — valorized difference over unity, with different groups pursuing their own single-issue, reformist politics. In the 1990s,  however, new “anti-“ or “alterglobalization” movements rejected this approach to form new kinds of alliances – such as between North and South and labor and environmental groups – essential to fight the growing power of transnational capitalism (see Brecher et. al. 2000).

Another form of the postmodern politics of difference championed “multiculturalism” in university studies and throughout society as a whole, thereby promoting greater diversity and equality. Rather than seeing multiculturalism as a call for inclusion, however, conservatives denounced it as a corrosive relativism and subversive attack on the timeless norms, eternal truths, and hallowed academic canon (e.g., the “Great Books” p+rograms centered on the ideas of dead, white, western males) of Western culture. This set off a new round of “culture wars” in which conservative academics, media commentators, and fundamentalist Christians demonized liberalism (conflated with Leftism) as the cause of every form of social “decline” and went to battle to preserve their beloved traditions and social status.

As multiculturalism spread throughout academia, so too did “cultural studies” in the form of books, articles, conferences, and department programs dedicated to analyzing the profound social influence of advertising, images, mass media, and popular culture (see Grossberg et. al., 1992, Kellner 1995). Work done under this rubric has been incredibly diverse and fecund, including a variety of feminisms, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory; projects for critical pedagogy (Giroux 1988, McLaren 2006) and critical media literacy (Kellner 1998); sociological studies of “McDonaldization” and the “globalization of nothing” dynamics rooted in the spread of industrialization and bureaucratization logics (Ritzer 2003, 2004); science and technology studies (Best and Kellner 2001); and cyberstudies (Gray 1995) and animal studies (Baker 2000, Wolfe 2003).  

As culture becomes more pervasive throughout everyday life, the task of developing a critical analysis of its influence is increasingly urgent. The richest approaches to cultural studies will absorb the best elements of prior traditions and avoid their flaws and limitations. Such a perspective would, for instance, retain the Frankfurt School’s contextualization of culture within capitalist social relations, and eschew the tendency of many Birmingham and postmodern theorists to sever culture and economy. Conversely, it would reject the Frankfurt School’s outmoded dichotomy between high and low culture and recognize their implosion in a unified field dominated by capitalist imperatives. Also, it would break with the deterministic tendencies of Frankfurt School and postmodern theorists in favor of complex descriptions of how individuals are both shaped by and in turn shape culture, signs, and ideology. It would analyze the subtleties of resistance without exaggerating their significance and occluding the need for large scale social transformation. It would be multiperspectival in its facility to use different theoretical orientations (e.g., Marxism, feminism, race theory, queer studies, and animal rights), to draw on a wide range of texts (be they architecture, books, film, television, or the Internet), to analyze a broad array of identity positions (including not only clas+s but also sexuality, race, gender, nationality, and species), and illuminate the various ways in which cultural texts are encoded and decoded, produced and consumed (Kellner 2007).

At its best, cultural studies is not an esoteric academic exercise, but rather part of a critical pedagogy that teaches individuals how to interpret and decode the media representations that so powerfully shape their consciousness, identities, and lives. Critical cultural studies teaches skepticism to authority, logical reasoning, value thinking, and the importance of our roles as citizens not consumers. Critical cultural studies can “empower people to gain sovereignty over their culture and to be able to struggle for alternative cultures and political change. [It] is thus not just another academic fad, but can be part of a struggle for a better society and a better life” (Kellner 2007).

[This essay was an entry for he Blackwell Encyclopedia of
Sociology Online
(ed. George Ritzer), 2008.]


Adamson, Walter (1985). Marx and the Disillusionment of Marxism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Adamson, Walter (2007). Embattled Avant-Gardes: Modernism’s Resistance to Commodity Culture in Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Adorno, T.W. (1991) The Culture Industry. London: Routledge.

Baker, Steve (2000). Postmodern Animal. Reaktion.

Baudrillard, Jean (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e).

Benjamin, Walter (1969) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations. New York: Shocken.

Best, Steven (1995). The Politics of Historical Vision: Marx, Foucault, and Habermas. New York: Guilford Press.

Best, Steven and Kellner, Douglas (1991) Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. London and New York: Macmillan and Guilford Press.

Best, Steven and Kellner, Douglas (1997). The Postmodern Turn. New York: Guilford Press.

Best, Steven and Kellner, Douglas (2001) The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium. New York: Guilford Praa”

Pierre (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Brecher, Jeremy, Costellow, Tim, and Smith, Brendan (2000). Globalization From Below: The Power of Solidarity. Boston: South End Press.

Certeau, Michel de (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Debord, Guy (1967). Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1983). Anti-Oedipus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Foster, Hal (ed.) (1983). The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Port Townsend, Washington Bay Press. 

Giroux, Henry (1998). Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning. Westport CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.

Gray, Chris (ed.) (1995). The Cyborg Handbook. New York: Routledge.

Grossberg, Lawrence, Nelson, Cary and Paula Treichler (1992). Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge.

Hall, Stuart et. al. (1980). Culture, Media, Language. London: Hutchinson.

Hebdige, Dick (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen.

Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, T.W. (1972). Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Seabury.

Hebdige, Dick (1979) Subculture. The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen.

Jameson, Fredric (1984). “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review, Number 146, pp. 53-93.

Jameson, Fredric (1991). Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Kellner, Douglas (1995) Media Culture. Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London and New York: Routledge.

Kellner, Douglas (1997) “Critical Theory and British Cultural Studies: The Missed Articulation,” in Cultural Methodologies, edited by Jim McGuigan. London: Sage, pp. 12-41.

Kellner, Douglas (1998) “Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogy in a Multicultural Society.” Educational Theory, Vol. 48, Nr. 1: 103-122.

Korsch, Karl (1972) Marxism and Philosophy. London: New Left Books.

Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso Books.

Lefebvre, Henri (1971). Critique of Everyday Life (Vol. 1). London: Verso Books.

Lefebvre, Henri (1992). The Production of Space. Hoboken,, NJ: Wiley ress.

Lukács, Georg (1975). History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. London: Merlin Press.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1984). The Postmodern Condition: Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Marcuse, Herbert (1971). An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marcuse, Herbert (1974). Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marcuse, Herbert (2006). One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. New York: Routledge.

McLaren, Peter (2006). Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. New Jersey: Allyn & Bacon.

Ritzer, George (2003). The Globalization of Nothing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Ritzer, George (2004).The McDonalization of Society (revised edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Wiggershaus, Rolf (1994). The Frankfurt School. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Wolfe, Cary (2003). Animal Rights: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.





by Dr. Steve Best


Headline: July 12, 2011, The Independent: “Climate change could kill one in 10 species by end of the century”:

“Climate change,” writes Steve Conner, “is speeding up the rate at which animals and plants are becoming extinct. By the end of the century, one in 10 species could be on the verge of extinction because of the effects of global warming, a study has found. The findings support the view that the earth is currently experiencing a global mass extinction where the rate at which species are being lost is many times greater than the historical extinction rate. It is the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life on earth.”

So “Climate change could kill one in ten species by the end of the century.” Well, this sounds like an understatement and never forget it has already begun to kill thousands of humans and animals and already has precipitated a crisis of environmental refugees. But do be sure to make that read that Homo rapiens could be wiping out evolution at increasingly rapid rates as, of course, we caused climate change and brought about the sixth extinction crisis.

I have an odd hobby of following these reports. I have a five-foot high stack of articles I have collected in huge folders just over the last few years that I refer to as “reports from the apocalypse.” If you just poked through these files, and did nothing but look at the headlines and grasped the mounting evidence for extinction and collapse, you might not be one of the “happy shiny people” who joyously lead the charge each morning on Facebook, trumpeting the coming “Vegan Victory” against the Forces of Evil!

There is a massive global scientific consensus that ecological systems are dying and Gaia is unraveling (as glaciers melt, sea levels rise, temperatures climb, and so on), and that the quickening of change is happening more quickly than the most pessimistic feared might occur. For over twenty-five years at least, scientists have issued serious and credible “warnings to humanity” that have floated away into the winds of apathy and been clouded over with disinformation.

So lifestyle vegan passifists piss me off, on the one hand, as do the neoliberals, growth fetishists, and technoutopians who (1) minimize the reality that there are real limits to growth that we can yet reach without minimal problem, as they (2) praise the miracles of the “new green revolution” (the first one was doomed from the start and only exacerbated the solid and food crisis) or champion biotechnology, the genetic reconstruction of all existing life and cloning alleged “successful designs” (all abysmal failures so far), and (3) fail to consider that, for every one more human added to the Western elite or poverty-stricken of the undeveloped world, we will lose countless many more animals and steal even more habitat and resources necessary for the elephants, gorillas, and tigers, for instance, to live, and all are dying off before our eyes. 

I look at this crisis theory shit every day, and here is a typical sampling of recent lines in scientific reports and credible journalism:

“Parched: Australia Faces Collapse as Climate Change Kicks In”

“Long Droughts, Rising Seas Predicted Despite Future CO2 Curbs”

“World Sea levels to Rise 1.5m by 2100”

“Number of Strong Hurricanes Doubles Over Past 35 Years”

“Riots, Instability Spread as Food Prices Skyrocket”

“Billions Could Go Hungry from Global Warming by 2100”

“Brazil Amazon Deforestation Soars”

“Over 15,000 Species Face Extinction”

“Apes ‘Extinct in a Generation’”

“THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: It Happened to Him. It’s Happening to You”

“Both Ends of Earth Are Melting”

“U.N. Warns of Rapid Decay of Environment”

“Panel Issues Bleak Report on Climate Change”

“Save the Planet? It’s Now or Never, Warns landmark UN report”

“Humans Living Far Beyond Planet’s Means”

“Earth Can’t Sustain Humans”

Every day, I confront two key psychologically troubling facts:

(1) Almost everyone in the world is in denial as to how serious the global social and ecological crisis has become, especially if they are Panglossian “happy, shiny” lifestyle vegan spreading their facile Gospel of Truth everyday on Facebook, assuring us that “We WILL win!!” and,

(2) We will die off soon enough, perhaps over a period of decades, perhaps the agony will be prolonged for centuries, but not before we can inflict considerably more killing, violence, and destruction on one another, other species, and the planet. We might remain alive long enough to play out a ruthless Mad Max struggle for survival, or even to transform this beautiful “pale blue dot” (Sagan) into the horrifying blood-red hues of the dead planet of Mars.

I have accepted the likely imminent demise of Homo rapiens. I just hope we go out with a bang not a whimper, so biodiversity and the earth have a chance to recover and revivify with us gone. In fact, so long as we remain alive and continue to inflate our population by billions more and colonize ever-more animal habitat, as the world’s most populous nations – India and China – clamor to live the “American lifestyle (and we all know that “the earth cannot afford another United States”), I do not see anything ahead but further devastation, destruction, and decimation of all life and nature.

I do not envision a “great leap forward” from a socialist or anarchist revolution, I am near abandoning the metaphysical hope of “revolution” altogether, and I certainly do not buy into the naive myth of “the coming vegan revolution”! I do think the world will soon shift toward a vegan diet, but not due to the “successful” efforts of the global vegan education movement (a dismal failure), but rather because nature, scarcity, and escalating economic and ecological costs will impose change on humanity out of necessity, not from conscious choices, spreading “enlightenment,” and the pathetically elitist, classist, consumerist, and racist nature of vegan education and “outreach” campaigns.


I’m sorry to say, but my hunch is that what activists, education groups, and social resistance movement are now doing is all too little, too late, and we continue to lose ground. But I am not excusing apathy, hedonism, or nihilism.

I will continue to fight. Indeed I will become as “extreme” as the crisis itself and chances for resistance demand. Despite the daunting magnitude of the problem, and the pathetically inadequate attempts to understand and resolve it, there is not a fait accompli dooming this great planet and there is still much to save and preserve for nature and animals.

If we cannot learn how to live harmoniously on this planet, then we do not deserve to live at all. This is now a fundamental axiom for me.

I have come to terms with the fact that Homo sapiens is likely to go down the same evolutionary cul-de-sac as did Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis.

I’ve been an activist for thirty years in countless causes and movements and had my share of disappointments in humanity. But I am a fighter, not a quitter. And so my tears, passion, anger, and the revolutionary fire that continues to rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light will never dim or die out. For while humans may be too stupid, apathetic, oppressed, fearful, and narcissistic to unite and fight, that’s no longer my principle worry or concern.

I do hope we can come together collectively, globally, and with a militant resolve, solidarity, and inclusivity (such as giving animal liberationists the respect and prominent role they deserve in all future struggles) that is as unprecedented as the task is daunting. I’m not placing any bets on the plausibility of this scenario for humans are power-oriented, violent primates and xenophobic tribalists for the most part. It’s hard enough to have a successful relationship with one person, or to run one small effective campaign, let alone to unite a myriad of competing (but ultimately common) interests in alliance, solidarity, and shared power, while fighting the real enemies in the outside world rather than one another!

And so, while I will ally with and fight for every social justice movement that merits support, I am fighting this war now principally for every animal in a cage, for every species not yet extinct, and for every ecosystem not yet poisoned, ruined, or unalterably destroyed. This way, so long as humans continue to speed down the path of self-destruction and extinction, I can take comfort in the fact that a tragedy for humans is a blessing for the planet, and that in a literally posthuman world my work, sacrifices, and struggles might have made some small, enduring difference.

%d bloggers like this: