Archive for August, 2011


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“Food conglomerates are hedging their bets by buying smaller companies that produce vegetarian products. Kraft (KFT) now owns Boca, of vegetarian burger fame. Dean Foods (DF) has WhiteWave, maker of the popular Silk line of soy milk beverages, and Kellogg (K) has meatless sausage and burger maker Morningstar Farms. ConAgra (CAG) recently bought Lightlife, which sells meat substitutes such as Smart Bacon.”

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/nov2006/db20061121_643413_page_2.htm

These by now well-known facts problematize the definition of “vegan.” If you buy any of these products, you are supporting the meat and dairy industries and not doing a “noble vegan boycott” of them. If you eat out (especially if you have restaurant fries, etc., you are not vegan, but someone constantly duped). The minimal conditions for being vegan are to avoid these products and any like them, make sure the beer or wine you like is vegan, eat mostly or exclusively at home, and maybe to really be safe go raw (assuming no sludge is sprayed on it).

People say being vegan is not hard, and in some ways in it is not, but very few “vegans” are strict or aware enough not to either unwittingly eat food with milk or egg or butter in it or not to buy a product owned by agribusiness. Most of you know this, but I’ve always found the “go vegan” slogan facile for many reasons, and most vegans technically are not strict vegans, and I am not talking about those phony pseudo-vegan “flexitarians” who eat nonvegan cupcakes or cheese (!) “sometimes” or when they feel like it. And I am not aware that for all their moral superiority and vegan fascist attacks on the imperfect tribes, unlike their own, that the Francione Flock ever raised these kind of problems;  hence at yet another level their analysis and “vegan education” (a mantra without a practice) is incredibly superficial. Plus, unless you are raw, small animals are killed in the harvesting of wheat etc., and so you are not non-violent.You may be eating vegan foods shipped across the world, and are not so environmentalist. Strive for the ideal, but Vegan Police fuck off — who will police the Vegan Police?

I am not pontificating, I took the ecological footprint test one time and the results were not flattering, mostly because I fly so much. There is no lifestyle that is non-violent, perfectly ecological, or totally vegan, We all cause violence, death, and harm just by living.

So the question is not how can you be “pure” or should you just kill yourself to truly reduce your footprint, but rather: do you do more good than harm by living? That alone justifies one’s existence, otherwise, one’s best contribution to the world would be suicide.

Your call. Be honest.

*********************

Also see: “Natural Foods Buyout Watch”:  http://www.veganstreet.com/community/buyoutwatch.html

By

Steven Best

 

“We are great apes. All the great apes that have ever lived, including ourselves, are linked to one another by an unbroken chain of parent-child bonds. Molecular evidence suggests that our common ancestor with chimpanzees lived, in Africa, between five and seven million years ago, say half a million generations ago. This is not long by evolutionary standards.” Richard Dawkins

Anyone desiring to know the nature and place of Homo sapiens in the natural world, of how our species fits into the wider web of biological history and relationships, can start by consulting the scientific tables. The formal identification, classification, and ordering of species into hierarchical arrangements is the task of taxonomy, and the first modern pioneer of the field was Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).

Confronting a morass of unwieldy names and descriptions, Linnaeus set out to simplify and order biological classifications by arranging species in a hierarchy of relations based on shared physical characteristics. In 1735, he published the first edition of Systema naturae (System of Nature), which he constantly revised. His tenth and final edition (1758) became the standard reference for subsequent science. The “Linnaean taxonomy” organizes biodiversity into Kingdoms, which are then divided into increasingly specific groupings of Phyla, Classes, Orders, Families, Genera, and Species. Since Linnaeus, scientists have made numerous changes in his scheme, but his model remains the basis for efforts to formulate an international code of nomenclature that organizes species in a clear, relatively stable, and universal manner.

On the Linnaean model, moving from the general to the specific, human beings have been situated thus:

 

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

Phylum: Chordata (post-anal tail, pharyngeal gill slits, notochord, and a hollow dorsal nerve cord)

Class: Mammalia (hair, warm-blooded, suckle their young)

Order: Primates (collar bone, grasping hands with opposable thumbs, incisors and molars, stereoscopic vision)

Family: Hominidae (bipedal)

Genus: Homo (large-brained, tool-using)

Species: Homo sapiens (language, rationality, and culture)

 

Linnaeus’ scheme, it should be emphasized, dramatically departed from, and was a clear advance over, the medieval “Great Chain of Being” model that ordered life in a hierarchy of complexity, intelligence, and perfection, with humans just below angels and God and other animals placed just above rocks and trees. Yet, despite the appearance of scientific objectivity and precision, taxonomies are not unbiased reflections of “natural” relationships captured by a disinterest, scribe-like mind recording reality as it really is; instead, they are social constructs and arbitrary arrangements conditioned by a host of assumptions and ideologies. Like the process of selecting and ordering “facts” in meaningful relations for a historical narrative, the construction of taxonomical hierarchies is shaped by a battery of theoretical and pre-theoretical biases. Thus, the category of “species” is subject to widely varying interpretations and perspectives, and is a social construct in the same manner as “race.”

Since the nineteenth century, scientists have advanced the category of “race” as objective and grounded in real biological differences among human beings. In truth, prevailing race theories were uninformed, hodge-podge attempts to homogenize vast populations into static, ideal types, whereas human groups are diverse, dynamic, and hybridized. Taxonomies also reflected racist biases (often not too subtle) that ranked the worlds’ cultures below “Caucasian” and “European.” Linnaeus himself smuggled racist and Eurocentric biases into his scheme with a concept of “race” that divided Homo sapiens into four categories: Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeans. He assigned “natural” characteristics to each type and constructed a hierarchy that positioned Europeans as superior and non-Europeans as inferior.

Thus, while seemingly as empirical as one can get, “race” is a social construction that has little to do with “objective” categorizing of “natural” differences, and much to do with politics and prejudice. “Race” is nothing but a phylogenic appearance adapted to a particular environment and is particularly meaningless in light of hybridized and multi-racial populations. Similarly, human “gender” differences are not “natural” relations,” but rather social constructions shaped by patriarchal biases. Throughout western culture, from Aristotle and the Bible to Rousseau, Freud, and beyond, male theorists have reflected the biological types of “male” and “female” through the social categories of “man” and “woman.” With alleged “natural” characteristics grounded in a dualistic and hierarchical logic, patriarchal ideology declares that men are “rational” and women are “emotional,” that men naturally command the public sphere and women necessarily belong to the private sphere of domestic life, and that men are the agents of history and women are the “second sex,” in Simone de Beauvoir’s phrase. Patriarchy defines men apart from and superior to women, and for the last ten thousand years this arbitrary hierarchical model has informed gender identities and social institutions and relations throughout western history, and other cultures as well.

Deconstructing “Species”

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way … How smart does a chimp have to be before killing him constitutes murder?” Drs. Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan.

Similar to the constitution of race and gender in the ideologies of racism and sexism, there is a social construction of species in the form of speciesism. The arbitrary nature of taxonomy is evident in Linnaeus’ classifications. Initially, Linnaeus used the Aristotelian term of “quadruped” (itself not accurate in many ways) to define the Class Mammalia, but in the tenth edition of his book he introduced the term “mammalia” to characterize a diverse Class as comprised of species whose females have breast glands and suckle their young. His reasons had nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics, as Linnaeus had embarked on a campaign urging mothers to naturally breast-feed their babies, a project with which he identified enough to use it to essentialize a wide variety of animals as mammary-endowed “mammals.”

The term “Homo sapiens” itself is a biased and arbitrary classification that exaggerates differences between human and nonhuman primates. As members of Homo sapiens, we have an extensive evolutionary ancestry in the primate and mammalian worlds that shapes our emotions, desires, and actions, and thus humanity is a biological product. But, of course, we also have long social histories that also shaped us profoundly and in which the “natural” species “Homo sapiens” was transformed into the cultural construct of “human being.” Just as human males and females are socially reconstituted as “men” and “women” in ways that differ vastly from culture to culture, so members of Homo sapiens are constituted as “human beings” in richly diverse ways throughout history.

Different cultures construct vary species identities within which individuals understand (1) their commonality as a species (to they extent they in fact do recognize one another as “human” rather than as “savage,” “beastly,” “barbaric,” or “sub-human”), (2) their differences from (other) animals, and (3) their role in the cosmos as a whole. While species identity fluctuates throughout different cultures, in western societies and elsewhere, they draw from the same anthropocentric and speciesist logic that defines humans as separate from nature and animals, as superior to other species, and as the end to which the animals and the fruits of the earth are mere means.

Through the Looking Glass of Primates

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

A prolonged scientific debate and culture war continues to rage over the relation between humans and their closest relatives in the great apes; the controversy raises the question of whether the genetic, anatomical, and behavioral differences among humans and apes are significant enough to warrant classifying them in different Family and Genus groupings. The culture war over species identity predates Darwin and extends at least to Linnaeus himself who challenged speciesist assumptions.

Although a pious Lutheran, Linnaeus broke with scientific and religious convention by classifying humans and apes in the same primate Order. This provocation aroused the ire of a Lutheran Archbishop, who accused him of “impiety.” In response, Linnaeus wrote: “It is not pleasing that I must place humans among the primates…I desperately seek from you and from the whole world a general difference between men and simians from the principles of Natural History. I certainly know of none. If only someone might tell me one! If I called man a simian or vice versa I would bring together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to, in accordance with the law of Natural History.”

Not only was Linnaeus’ scheme developed a century before Darwin’s theory of evolution, it took shape two centuries before the genetic revolution that shed a powerful new light on evolutionary history and biological relationships. Whereas earlier theories relied on overt, observable physical traits for taxonomical construction, the genetic revolution that began in the 1960s enabled scientists and anthropologists to classify species according to their genetic composition. While an important perspective, morphological similarities and differences are not always accurate scientific markers — although genetic techniques have their own types of imprecision.

Traditional schemes based on physical similarities such as bone structure postulated that chimpanzees and gorillas were biologically nearest to each other and closely related to orangutans, while having an indirect relation to humans. Common chimpanzees and pygmy chimpanzees (bonobos) were classified in their own Genus, Pan, while humans were placed in a separate Genus, Homo. The great apes were separated from humans at the Family level and cast into the Pongidae category apart from the Hominidae group that included only bipeds such as Homo sapiens. The breakthroughs of genetic science, however, have suggested a dramatically different arrangement.

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 eight million years ago. Through genetic science, scientists have established that humans share 95-98 percent of their genes with cimpanzees, such that chimpanzees are biologically closer to us than they are to orangutans and gorillas.

 

Yet, despite recent scientific evidence demonstrating the evolutionary closeness of humans and apes – not only genetically, but also behaviorally and psychologically — conventional taxonomies haven’t significantly changed over the last two centuries. As noted by biologist Morris Goodman, “Historically, the philosophy behind how we group organisms was flawed. Starting with Aristotle in ancient Greece, species have been grouped according to their `degree of perfection,’ with man as the pinnacle.” This metaphysical and anthropocentric view led to the “exaggeration of the differences between humans and their relatives” rather than to a more “objective view of man’s place in the kingdom of life.” As a key battle in the science wars that are inseparable from ongoing culture wars over values and politics, many theorists have urged redrawing the taxonomical map in a way that accurately reflects our true genetic and anatomical relationships with apes. Other researchers, however, have strenuously resisted making these changes, whether in the textbooks, teaching plans, or established frames of thought.

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. 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. To be consistent with other mammalian genera/species classifications, the Wayne State researchers argue that we need “to revise our definition of the human branch of the tree of life.” Their proposal is to establish three species under the genus Homo: Homo (Homo) sapiens, or humans; Homo (Pan) troglodytes, or common chimpanzees; and Homo (Pan) paniscus, or bonobo chimpanzees. Uniting great apes and humans in one Family grouping of Hominidae creates new subfamilies of Ponginae and Homininae. Using their model, we can chart the differences between the traditional and revised taxonomical schemes this way:

 Old Scheme

 Family              Family

Pongidae          Hominidae

 Genus               Genus

Pan                   Homo

Species              Species

Common           Homo sapiens

chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

 Bonobo (Pan paniscus)

New Scheme

 Family

Hominidae

            Ponginae

            Homininae

 Genus

Homo

            Homo (Pan) troglodytes

            Homo (Pan) paniscus

            Homo (Homo) sapiens

In similar fashion, geographer Jared Diamond categorizes humans as the “third chimpanzee,” along with common chimpanzees and bonobos. Humans do not constitute a distinct Family, or even a singular Genus, but rather belong in the same Genus as common and pygmy chimps. 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). Richard Dawkins is refreshingly clear and frank on our species status and place in nature: “The word ‘apes’ usually means chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons and slamangs. We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. Our common ancestor with the chimpanzees and gorillas is much more recent than their common ancestor with the Asian apes — the gibbons and orangutans. There is no natural category that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans but excludes humans… In truth, not only are we apes, we are African apes. The category ‘African apes,’ if you don’t arbitrarily exclude humans, is a natural one.”

Of course, for human supremacists this is a bitter pill to swallow, and many scientists resist the new taxonomy. Whereas some detractors rely on the weak argument that reclassification would be “confusing” (the terms do indeed get complicated), others raise more substantive objections. Anthropologist Bernard Wood states: “The argument is whether genetic relatedness is the only thing you should take into account… A genus should also be a group of very similar species that share attributes such as behavior and [mode of movement].”  

It seems clear that many factors should be taken into account for sound taxonomical construction, including those visible and invisible to the naked eye; the macrocosmic and microcosmic; and morphological, genetic, and cultural criteria – the latter factor becoming increasingly interesting and important with ever more studies of the moral life of chimpanzees. But however the debates get resolved, we should not conclude that all scientists who seek to preserve the taxonomic status quo are motivated by reasons of “science” alone; rather, they are viewing the world through speciesist biases that condition how they select “facts,” respond to studies, and view humans in relation to their biological relatives. A new taxonomy that brought humans and primates together into the same Family threatens species identities, and may also provoke emotional discomfort with reminders of our animalic past and the deep evolutionary roots of rationality. In addition, the new outlook certainly threatens those who earn their salaries by experimenting on animals, the great apes above all.

The stakes here are not merely semantic, but also deeply philosophical, social, and ethical. As paleontologist Lee Berger observes, “The classification debate is not just a debate for the purist; it cuts to the very core of our understanding of humans’ place in nature and our evolutionary relationships with our closest living relatives.” Christopher Soligo, of the Human Origins research group in London, England, notes that the recent studies contributing to “blurring the boundaries between our species” have “political implications” because they challenge the speciesist dogma at the heart of science and social organization.” Morris Goodman points to one important possible consequence: “The loss of the [wild] chimp and gorilla seems imminent. Moving chimps into the human genus might help us to realize our very great likeness, and therefore treasure more and treat humanely our closest relative.”

If chimpanzees belong with us in the same Genus, if they too are a Homo species, this should make the arbitrary justifications used to perform cruel experiments on them even more frayed than they already are, and efforts to protect and grant them legal rights as “persons” all the more urgent.

“The disturbing question posed by IQ tests – are chimps cleverer than us?”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-499989/The-disturbing-question-posed-IQ-tests–chimps-cleverer-us.html#ixzz1VR7dPGyq

Apparently this reporter just caught wind of the animal rights and cognitive ethology revolution and is totally confused. What a stupid , speciesist conclusion, that we are superior to chimps and can experiment on them because we can build spaceships and they cannot; how utterly circular, question begging, and an irrelevant red herring point is this, as common a mentality it is. Difference is always turned into hierarchy and power, and never respected.

And why is the possibility chimps can be smarter than us in some ways, or even just intelligent, “disturbing”? Talk about Homo(sapiens)phobia, the fear there could be other forms of “intelligence” out there in the world. Maybe this guy is freaked because he saw the Return of the Planet of the Apes and is having anxiety over being an inferior primate and an evolutionary dead-end? Forget about the typical point chimps are smarter than a 4-5 year old child, I have studies showing chimps consistently outperform college students on analogy and spatial relations tests! Finally, after all this speciesist drivel, the reporter shifts ground, inconsistently but happily, to end on a positive final sentence.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-DSM-V-Needs-to-Classify-Animal-Rights-Activism-as-a-Mental-Disorder/107846425969257

TO ALL FELLOW Animal Rights Activists: I hope you all will join me in getting the professional help we all need to overcome our shared “mental disorder” of compassion for innocent victims of “healthy” humans who torture and murder them without mercy. Since the early nineteenth century, people opposed to animal cruelty were charged with the disease of “zoophilia” – a psychotic attachment to animals that poses a threat to society. Now we know scientifically we have a “mental disorder.” Please, join me, and get the professional counceling we all so desperately need, for the sickness of compassion.

Chinese middle class consumers = 300 million people (out of 1.2 billion), the total size of the US. They say “the planet cannot afford another United States.” Well, now it has two at least. An they will build one new McDonald’s EVERY DAY within 5 years. Any complacency or talk of “vegan victory” or “revolution” is nonsense; start to face the facts so you can fight with clarity not in a utopian state of denial.

“Present estimates of “middle class” in China range from 100 million to 247 million, depending on how much income renders one “middle class.” Assuming that an income of about$9000 is necessary to be considered middle class, China could have over 600 million middle class citizens by 2015. The China State Information Center, by contrast, considers those earning 50,000 yuan ($6,227) per year to be middle class – and expects 25% of the populace to qualify by 2010.

Estimates of the size and growth rate of China’s middle class vary. Roughly half of China’s projected urban population will be middle class in 2025. Unlike the United States, where income typically peaks between the ages of 45 to 54, it is predicted that the wealthiest consumers in China will be between 25 to 44 years old because the younger generation will be more highly educated.

The meteoric rise in China’s middle class is tied to dramatic increases in its per capita income, which is growing at a nearly unprecedented rate. The first industrial revolution created a 250% increase in per capita income over a 100 year period. The second industrial revolution triggered 350% per capita income growth over 60 years. By comparison, China is on track to create a 700% growth in per capita income in just 20 years.

Chinese households currently save 25% of their post-tax income, according to the China Statistical Yearbook. A survey by McKinsey indicated that this high savings rate was driven, in part, by Chinese citizens’ belief that they need to set aside funds for retirement and healthcare expenses. If these expenses do not rise as rapidly as income levels, then Chinese consumers may have a surplus of funds that they are willing to spend. And, if health care costs do rise, the Chinese healthcare sector may be an attractive investment. ”

Favorite Edward Abbey Quotes

At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour.
– Edward Abbey

The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws.
– Edward Abbey

The plow has probably done more harm – in the long run – than the sword.
– Edward Abbey

The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information.
– Edward Abbey

The rancher strings barbed wire across the range, drills wells and bulldozes stock ponds everywhere, drives off the elk and antelope and bighorn sheep, poisons coyotes and prairie dogs, shoots eagle and bear and cougar on sight, supplants the native bluestem and grama grass with tumbleweed, cow shit, cheat grass, snakeweed, anthills, poverty weed, mud and dust and flies – and then leans back and smiles broadly at the Tee Vee cameras and tells us how much he loves the West.
– Edward Abbey

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.
– Edward Abbey

If wilderness is outlawed, only outlaws can save wilderness.
– Edward Abbey

When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.
– Edward Abbey

I’m in favor of animal liberation. Why? Because I’m an animal.
– Edward Abbey

From the point of view of a tapeworm, man was created by God to serve the appetite of the tapeworm.
– Edward Abbey

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.
– Edward Abbey

The ideal society can be described, quite simply, as that in which no man has the power of means to coerce others.
– Edward Abbey

The purpose and function of government is not to preside over change but to prevent change. By political methods when unavoidable, by violence when convenient.
– Edward Abbey

The industrial corporation is the natural enemy of nature.
– Edward Abbey

In social affairs, I’m an optimist. I really do believe that our military-industrial civilization will soon collapse.
– Edward Abbey

We live in a society in which it is normal to be sick; and sick to be abnormal.
– Edward Abbey

Science is the whore of industry and the handmaiden of war.
– Edward Abbey

The mad scientist was once only a creature of gothic romance; now he is everywhere, busy torturing atoms and animals in his laboratory.
– Edward Abbey

Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul. One brave deed is worth a thousand books.
– Edward Abbey

Freedom begins between the ears.
– Edward Abbey

Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth.
– Edward Abbey

The artist in our time has two chief responsibilities: (1) art; and (2) sedition.
– Edward Abbey

The rebel is doomed to a violent death. The rest of us can look forward to sedated expiration in a coma inside an oxygen tent, with tubes inserted in every bodily orifice.
– Edward Abbey

Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.
– Edward Abbey

Beware of the man who has no enemies.
– Edward Abbey

The greater your dreams, the more terrible your nightmares.
– Edward Abbey

Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.
– Edward Abbey

`

“Get your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirtyhuman!

In 1968, the original Planet of the Apes (POTA) first appeared in American movie theatres. On the surface, it was a sci-fi tale about a post-apocalyptic Earth where apes have evolved and gained control over a world destroyed by humans. But scratch deeper, and the film is heavily charged with political allegories about the anxieties and social struggles of the time.[i] Based on a 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle entitled Monkey Planet, and co-adapted for the screen by Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, POTA was a smash hit with American audiences. In today’s scale, it grossed over $100 million, and generated 4 sequels, a TV series, a Saturday morning cartoon, comic books, vast merchandising, and even a traveling theatre act.

Despite poor production values, faulty plot lines, clumsy dialogue, one-dimensional characters, and thematic heavy-handedness, the film series remains important for establishing the genre of sci-fi sequels and exploring serious issues such as race, violence, prejudice, religion, and the pathologies of power. POTA is premised on a reversal of master-slave relations, such that human beings are oppressed by a superior species of apes. Thus, it is humans, not apes, who are slaves regarded as dirty, smelly, and ignorant, whose intelligence is limited to mimicking behaviors, and who consequently are confined, hunted, and exploited for entertainment value and scientific research.

In the first film, the provocative story line was matched by a stunning ending in which misanthrope astronaut Charlton Heston discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, thereby realizing that the bleak planet he landed on is his own (future) Earth after humans have destroyed themselves through nuclear warfare. Subsequent films go back in time to the early 1990s when, after a virus has wiped out all cats and dogs, apes become domesticated servants and pets. But the apes begin to rebel, and humans fight back (unsuccessfully) for control of the top primate position. Having begun on the dark note of nuclear apocalypse, the series ends on a utopian motif of apes and humans working harmoniously to rebuild a civilization.

The battle between apes and humans provides a rich allegory for the civil rights struggles and Vietnam War that dominated the social agenda of the time, as the nuclear holocaust theme legitimates the worst paranoia of the Cold War period. The spectacle of hairy apes dominating white humans brings to light the codes of conquest whereby whites have subdued people of color since the dawn of colonialism five centuries ago.

Putting white humans in the role of conquered rather than conqueror, object rather than subject, vividly estranges one’s sense of normal and directs our focus to the utter wrongness of violating the integrity and rights of persons, regardless of their race or place. It is to hold up a mirror to the oppressor and proclaim, “This is what you are like. Here is how you treat us. Know what it is to be dehumanized, enslaved, and reduced to the status of a thing.” The empire of the apes symbolizes not only the rebellion of every oppressed group against the Western white oppressor, but also the revenge of nature against the species that reduces it to resources for its economic, scientific, and entertainment institutions.  In large part, the POTA films identify with the revolutionary struggles of oppressed communities of any kind as they challenge the rule of oppressors.

Of course, POTA concerns not only how some human beings dominate others, but also how the entire human species colonizes other animal species, including their closest biological relatives, the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos). Thus, for the zeitgeist that produced POTA, it is perhaps no coincidence that amidst the heated conflicts of 1968, Jane Goodall published her first major scientific paper about the making and using of tools in chimpanzee societies. Moreover, in 1969, Allen and Beatrix Gardner documented their successful efforts to teach American Sign Language to Washoe, a baby chimpanzee. With these and other major breakthroughs in the field of ethology, the study of animal emotions and intelligence, human culture was making a paradigm shift in its understanding of animal minds. The illumination gleaned from the reversal tactic of the series applies no less to human domination of animals than to the domination of one human group over another.

Deeply embedded in the political unconscious of POTA is the guilt of the human species for its genocidal and ecocidal institutions and mindsets. Throughout the series of POTA films, there are profound moments of human self-loathing, as evinced in the misanthropy of Heston’s character who complains about the violent nature of human beings and joins the space exploration team in the hopes of finding a better species, as well as statements like “The only good human is a dead human.” The reversal of power in the POTA genre suggests that in many ways humans lack intelligence, that they are psychologically unfit to hold the technological knowledge they monopolize, and that they are an evolutionary dead-end.

Some of the anti-discrimination allegories remain in Tim Burton’s summer 2001 “reimagining” of the original film, although in muted form as he focuses on style over substance and action over ideology. The reversal strategy is most powerful when the apes capture a child and put it in the cage of a young female ape who keeps the human as a pet. For the snarling, human-hating General Thade, “Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice.” But the critical foil to (ape) speciesism, and the liberal voice of the movie, is the female ape, Ari, a human rights activist who is greeted with as much contempt on her planet as animal rights activists are on Earth. Whereas the astronaut played by Charlton Heston crashes on his own Earth, Mark Wahlberg’s character lands on a foreign planet, but eventually returns to Earth for the surprise ending of the movie (and setting up yet another round of sequels). The time travel theme sustained throughout the series raises interesting issues about evolution and sustainability, prompting reflection on whether “progress” is in fact regress through the building of increasingly gluttonous economies and sophisticated weapons of destruction.

Sierra club founder John Muir once said, “In a war between humans and bears, I’d take the side of the bears.” Burton’s film, and the entire POTA series, offers a superb test of one’s species identity: Whom do you root for when the humans are battling the apes? The night I saw the film, the audience was loudly championing the humans against the apes, a fact that makes one wonder if the messages abouy the evils of slavery, racism, intolerance, and violence is buried in an action spectacle that ultimately codes the humans as the underdog for whom we should root.

Humans as underdog? The Great Ape Project group has complained that POTA ludicrously presents the apes in positions of power over humans, and masks the obvious fact that it is humans who are the real oppressors. Far from poised on the verge of taking over, apes are at the precipice of extinction. While the Great Ape Project totally misses the stinging critique of human violence and imperialism throughout the POTA series, it is true that Burton’s film does nothing to increase our understanding of the great apes and their plight and it likely aggravates human alienation from their kin.

We share almost 99 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, who are closer to us biologically than they are to orangutans. We emerged from a single ancestor some 5-8 million years ago, and we are both of the scientific order of primates, which are formed of 12 families and comprises over 200 species. Great apes are at least as intelligent as a 2-3 year old human, and they live in complex cultures governed by rules rather than mere instincts. With the aid of sign language, their rich minds, needs, emotions, and personalities are open for us to behold, most famously in the case of Koko the gorilla, as well as other chimps apes, and bonobos, such as Washoe, Koko, and Kanzi.[ii]

Yet we live in a time when human beings are annihilating their next of kin, destroying their habitat for timber and other resources, waging wars in their territories, capturing them for medical research and entertainment industries, and killing some 6,000 chimpanzees a year for bush meat which has become a highly prized status symbol in many African cities. According to primatologist Roger Fouts, there were 2 million chimpanzees living in Africa at the turn of the 20th century, and likely an equal number of gorillas in Africa and orangutans in Asia. Now, however, there are only 80,000 to 120,000 chimpanzees left in Africa, and they could easily be wiped out within a couple of decades.

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.

Ultimately, the message of POTA’s concerns the evils of prejudice and discrimination of any kind. POTA’s powerful turning of the tables shows humans what it is like to be lowered to the status of a thing, to be enslaved by a species that considers itself superior, and who uses religion and mythology to justify this hierarchy. In this parable of power, victims become victimizers, as age-old patterns of hierarchy reassemble in new forms. POTA brings mixed messages about primates, but the nature of the crisis and the task ahead is clear: we must move immediately to preserve and expand the habitat of the great apes, and rethink the meaning of personhood in light of the recent unveiling of the great apes’ remarkable minds, as well as the countless other species we now know to be be sentient, to have interests, and to be subject’s a life.

Notes


[i] As an example of the self-consciousness of the time, scriptwriter Paul Dehn claims that the fiery ape uprising in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) was modeled on newsreel footage of the 1965 Watts riots in L.A.

[ii]For scientifically accurate revisions of the taxonomic scheme that locate humans and primates in the same genera see John Pickrell, “Chimps Belong on Human Branch of Family Tree, Study Says,” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0520_030520_chimpanzees.html. Remarkably, the study concludes, “biologists at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, provide new genetic evidence that lineages of chimps (currently Pan troglodytes) and humans (Homo sapians) diverged so recently that chimps should be reclassified as Homo troglodytes. The move would make chimps full members of our genus Homo, along with Neanderthals, and all other human-like fossil species. “We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes.” Also, on the pioneering researching conducted at Wayne State see, “Chimps genetically close to humans,” BBC News, Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3042781.stm. The article is aptly subtitled, “Chimpanzees are so closely related to humans that they should properly be considered as members of the human family, according to new genetic research,” For my in-death research into ethology and revising of the taxonomic tables, see, “Minding the Animals: Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism,” https://drstevebest.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/minding-the-animals-ethology-and-the-obsolescence-of-left-humanism-2/ .

Our Task

The “animal rights movement,” such as it is, poses a fundamental evolutionary challenge to human beings in the midst of severe social and ecological crises. Can we recognize that the animal question is central to the human question? Can we grasp how the exploitation of nonhuman animals is implicated in every aspect of mental, social, and ecological breakdown? Can we illuminate and eliminate the corrupt constellation of overlapping oppressions that constitute the sickness and bungled experiment we call “civilization”? Can we become truly enlightened and overcome one of the last remaining prejudices, a sanctioned system of murder, a legally-validated police-protected form of enslavement, an ongoing holocaust? Can humans reorganize their economic institutions, retool their technologies, and reconstruct their cultural traditions apart from visceral violence and socially-secured sadism? Can they construct new sensibilities, values, worldviews, and identities?

Animal liberation is an assault on human identity alienated from the natural world and complex with vanity and arrogance.   It demands that humans relinquish their sense of superiority over nonhumans and smash the compasses of anthropocentrism and speciesism. Animal liberation provokes people to realize that power demands responsibility and that might is not right.  It places an unprecedented burden on humanity to act altruistically and no longer exploit their fellow beings.  Animal liberation calls people back to an integral consciousness and relation to their teeming natural surroundings such as their early ancestors enjoyed before symbolic thinking, technological culture, agriculture, and the emergence of hierarchical ideologies and institutions.

By expanding the definition and boundaries of moral subjects and community, animal liberationists challenge hierarchical thinking of all kinds (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ablism, and statism). Above all, it dismisses the speciesist mindset that humanity is apart from, rather than a part of, the natural world and evolutionary processes.  In a masterful example of question begging and circular reasoning – animals are deemed inferior to humans because they are not humans (i.e., they lack allegedly unique human qualities such as reasoning, language, and symbolic and technological cultures). Distorted conceptions of human beings as demigods who command a planet that exists solely for their interests and benefits must be replaced with the far more humble and holistic notion that humans belong to, and are dependent upon, vast networks of organic and inorganic relationships.

Let’s be clear: we are fighting for a revolution, not for reforms; for the end of slavery, not for “humane” slavemasters; for a new consciousness, not welfare, “benevolent slavery,” or “enlightened humanism.” Animal liberation advances the most radical idea to ever land on human ears: animals are not ours to exploit as food, clothing, resources, commodities, data, or “entertainment.” They exist for their own purposes, not ours. But animal liberation is simply unthinkable on its own terms, rather than as part and parcel of a larger revolutionary project that integrates human, animal, and Earth liberation as one inseparable struggle.

Thus, we must not only educate and agitate, we must form a social movement that combines the merely partial struggles for social justice, autonomy, animal rights, and ecology in a global, revolutionary politics of total liberation. As with all revolutions, animals will not gain “rights” (or whatever a possible future society calls inviolable and inalienable moral and legal protections against abuse and exploitation) because oppressors suddenly see the light, but rather because enough people become enraged, engaged, and learn how to rock the structures of power, to shake them until new social arrangements emerge.

Animal liberation requires that people transcend the complacent boundaries of humanism – however “radical” and “progressive” – to effect a qualitative leap in ethical consideration, one that moves the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity. Humans must not only change their views toward one another, a massive undertaking in itself, they must  also recognize that the species boundaries separating human from nonhuman animals are as arbitrary as those of race and sex. Animal liberation is possible only as total liberation that is advanced as part and parcel of a radical social movement and realizes moral learning processes in the institutional networks of a truly democratic post-capitalist society.

Animal liberation expands on classic humanist values such as rights, democracy, equality, justice, and peace, as it broadens inclusivity, expands moral value and legal protection, and deepens community. In taking the quantum jump beyond humanism, animal liberation does not “trivialize” human rights (as bioethicist Arthur Kaplan claims), but rather  frees the universal and progressive aspects of rights from the ignorance, bias, prejudice, and discrimination of  “rational” and “enlightened” human beings. Humanism is nothing but a generalized tribalism, applying to the artificially-created chasm between “Us” and “Them,” between human and nonhuman animals, a conceptual dualism that underpins the vicious and violent system of species apartheid.

As difficult, bloody, and tenacious the battle to win gains in human rights and equality has been throughout modern Western history, we must recognize that every justice struggle to the present has been relatively easy. Now it gets hard.

The patterns of history cannot be changed by the vain hopes of pacifists who believe that Divine intervention, moral magic, chanting and vigils, leafleting and online petitions, and vegan potlucks will make animal liberation – which threatens human psychological, social, and economic structures in profound ways – will be achieved peacefully, without shedding a drop of blood, through reason, compassion, and persuasion. Far more plausibly, especially as social and ecological crises heat up to fever pitch, we are headed for a profound, lengthy, and violent war – a war of human against nonhuman animals, of liberationists against exploiters, and of the corporate-state complex against militants and dissenters of any kind.

The struggle to end human supremacy is the most difficult liberation battle of all because speciesism is virtually primordial and universal. Speciesism was arguably the first form of hierarchical domination and a key model and blueprint for slavery, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ablism, and fascism. Speciesist cultures have grown in scale and degree throughout human history and its poisonous roots of human supremacism have spread throughout the globe.

Power, domination, violence, and extermination are not dynamics limited to Western culture or the modern world, as if there were a utopian past or radical alternative to recover. While wary of biological reductionism, it is nevertheless evident that power pathologies are deeply embedded in the long social and biological history of humans, and our ancient Australopithecine and primate ancestors. As  the appalled “monster” in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818) learns upon reading a book, the history of humanity is a tale of violence, warfare, genocide, and destruction, such that a war of extermination was first unleashed, quite likely, on a fellow human species, Homo neanderthalensis. Then, after a 15,000 year long pogrom designed to eliminate Neanderthals, humans hunted large mammals (megafauna) into extinction on every continent they roamed.

Beginning ten thousand years ago, humans from hierarchical agricultural societies slaughtered remaining hunting and gathering tribes, waged wider warfare against one another, enslaved captive populations, and from Romans and Mayans to Christians and the “manifest destiny” of the US, humans blanketed the Earth with invading armies whose numbers rose from thousands to millions to billions, exceeding ecological limits the entire way and paying the price with every crash and collapse.

Fueled by greed, bloodlust, cruelty, orgies of killing, and insatiable appetites for power, the Roman, Greek, Mayan empires are but variations on the global Human Empire – the tyrannical reign of Homo rapiens – such that one species on a path of runaway growth and expansion has colonized a fecund planet capable of generating tens of millions of species.

The pathologies of power and are not limited to Western societies or to the modern world, such that there is some significant utopian past or cultural alternative to recover. While social institutions such as capitalism magnify the worst aspects of human behavior, a violent dominator complex is not wholly accidental to the human species itself, which, but for rare exceptions, is a violent, destructive, and imperialist animal. Human beings have proven incapable of learning from past disasters, and unable to relinquish their arrogance and delusions.

Animal liberation is the most difficult battle we have ever fought because it requires widespread agreement to abandon the privileges of power and what people widely perceive to be their hard-won or God-given rights to exploit nonhuman animals and the entire Earth for their purposes.

To change these attitudes, and the systems they inform, is to change the very nerve center of human consciousness and existence.

That is our task no more and no less.

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