Archive for April 9, 2012


by Sasha (Earth First! Newswire)

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama signed a new Executive Order into existence, giving unprecedented power to the state under the auspices of national security.

The shocking order tells the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Interior “to encourage the exploration, development, and mining of strategic and critical materials and other materials” (Sec. 306. Strategic and Critical Materials).

“What this says to me is that the President has staged another robbery of resources,” states April Mondragon, a reporter with Censored News. “[T]his Executive Order now puts directly within the authority of an already over bloated Military Industrial Complex is a direct and extreme threat to our water, land, agriculture and Way of Life.”

All food, water, technology, and other “national security” resources now fall under the control of the Dept of Agriculture Secretary and the Dept of Defense Secretary. These government branches are told ”to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders,” granting priority to the military over civil society. The executive order also calls for the state to buy equipment and install new factories, working with the private sector to advance the interests of industry in the name of national defense (Section 308 a, b).

The latest executive order is just one in a series of repressive acts passed this year by the Obama Administration. The National Defense Authorization Act allows the US government to detain US citizens indefinitely, while recent antiprotest laws classify nonviolent demonstrations against politicians as federal crimes. Together, these three laws provide the state with virtually total power to control land use and stifle dissent.

For more info about state repression and how to stop it, visit the Civil Liberties Defense Center

Given my deep interest in human history, human nature, and evolutionary psychology, I was greatly stimulated by David Livingstone’s Smith book, The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War (2010).  Co-founder and director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England, Smith is a lucid and compelling writer, and, like other informed writers on evolutionary history, Smith shows clearly that a substantive theory of “human nature” by no means entails reactionary values that legitimate hierarchy and other reactionary values, and that the leftist-progressive assumption reference to human nature is inherently reactionary is not only wrong in its claim that human beings — whose first ancestors emerged from the primate family 5-7 million years ago, after all — are infinitely malleable rather than having deep biological proclivities toward violence, warfare, xenophobia, tribalism, and other traits that make us the disturbed, dysfunctional, and “dangerous” animal we are today.

I was delighted to see that Smith’s latest book, Less Than Human: How We Demean, Enslave, and Extirminate Others, pursues animal standpoint and total liberation related themes. Smith’s new book, in other words, exposes the systemic and disastrous consequences for humans when they separate themselves from the natural world, establish themselves as rational demigods, and embark on the project of dominating nature and other animal species. The key idea explore in Smith’s book is that because of the speciesist category of animals as less than human, hierarchy, slavery, murder, and genocide becomes easy and legitimated once one culture or people are “dehumanized” and “reduced” to the category of “animal.”

In Smith’s latest book, one can hardly fail to recognize he covers, from his unique evolutionary psychology perspective and emphasis on Homo sapiens as a deeply troubled and conflicted species, crucial themes already been well-mined in works such as Marjorie Spiegel’s The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (1997), Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (2002), and Jim Mason’s An Unnatural Order: Roots of Our Destruction of Nature (2005). For documentary treatment of the animal/human holocaust relation, I also recommend films such as Less Than Human (not a Stone project despite the title),

What follows is an NPR book review (March 29, 2011) of Smith’s new book, including a thirty minute radio interview with this fascinating author.

 

David Livingstone Smith is co-founder and director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England.

During the Holocaust, Nazis referred to Jews as rats. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals. In Less Than Human, David Livingstone Smith argues that it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty and genocide.

“We all know, despite what we see in the movies,” Smith tells NPR’s Neal Conan, “that it’s very difficult, psychologically, to kill another human being up close and in cold blood, or to inflict atrocities on them.” So, when it does happen, it can be helpful to understand what it is that allows human beings “to overcome the very deep and natural inhibitions they have against treating other people like game animals or vermin or dangerous predators.”

Rolling Stone recently published photos online of American troops posing with dead Afghans, connected to ongoing court-martial cases of soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. In addition to posing with the corpses, “these soldiers — called the ‘kill team’ — also took body parts as trophies,” Smith alleges, “which is very often a phenomenon that accompanies the form of dehumanization in which the enemy is seen as game.”

But this is just the latest iteration in a pattern that has unfolded time and again over the course of history. In ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature, Smith found repeated references to enemies as subhuman creatures. But it’s not as simple as a comparison. “When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures,” says Smith. Only then can the process “liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”

Cover of 'Less Than Human'

When the Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen, or subhumans, they didn’t mean it metaphorically, says Smith. “They didn’t mean they were like subhumans. They meant they were literally subhuman.”

Human beings have long conceived of the universe as a hierarchy of value, says Smith, with God at the top and inert matter at the bottom, and everything else in between. That model of the universe “doesn’t make scientific sense,” says Smith, but “nonetheless, for some reason, we continue to conceive of the universe in that fashion, and we relegate nonhuman creatures to a lower position” on the scale.

Then, within the human category, there has historically been a hierarchy. In the 18th century, white Europeans — the architects of the theory — “modestly placed themselves at the very pinnacle.” The lower edges of the category merged with the apes, according to their thinking.

So “sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans were denizens of the bottom of the human category,” when they were even granted human status. Mostly, they were seen as “soulless animals.” And that dramatic dehumanization made it possible for great atrocities to take place.

Excerpt: ‘Less Than Human’

by David Livingstone Smith

Cover of 'Less Than Human'

 
Before I get to work explaining how dehumanization works, I want to make a preliminary case for its importance. So, to get the ball rolling, I’ll briefly discuss the role that dehumanization played in what is rightfully considered the single most destructive event in human history: the Second World War. More than seventy million people died in the war, most of them civilians. Millions died in combat. Many were burned alive by incendiary bombs and, in the end, nuclear weapons. Millions more were victims of systematic genocide. Dehumanization made much of this carnage possible.

Let’s begin at the end. The 1946 Nuremberg doctors’ trial was the first of twelve military tribunals held in Germany after the defeat of Germany and Japan. Twenty doctors and three administrators — twenty-two men and a single woman — stood accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They had participated in Hitler’s euthanasia program, in which around 200,000 mentally and physically handicapped people deemed unfit to live were gassed to death, and they performed fiendish medical experiments on thousands of Jewish, Russian, Roma and Polish prisoners.

Principal prosecutor Telford Taylor began his opening statement with these somber words:

The defendants in this case are charged with murders, tortures and other atrocities committed in the name of medical science. The victims of these crimes are numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A handful only are still alive; a few of the survivors will appear in this courtroom. But most of these miserable victims were slaughtered outright or died in the course of the tortures to which they were subjected … To their murderers, these wretched people were not individuals at all. They came in wholesale lots and were treated worse than animals.

He went on to describe the experiments in detail. Some of these human guinea pigs were deprived of oxygen to simulate high altitude parachute jumps. Others were frozen, infested with malaria, or exposed to mustard gas. Doctors made incisions in their flesh to simulate wounds, inserted pieces of broken glass or wood shavings into them, and then, tying off the blood vessels, introduced bacteria to induce gangrene. Taylor described how men and women were made to drink seawater, were infected with typhus and other deadly diseases, were poisoned and burned with phosphorus, and how medical personnel conscientiously recorded their agonized screams and violent convulsions.

The descriptions in Taylor’s narrative are so horrifying that it’s easy to overlook what might seem like an insignificant rhetorical flourish: his comment that “these wretched people were … treated worse than animals“. But this comment raises a question of deep and fundamental importance. What is it that enables one group of human beings to treat another group as though they were subhuman creatures?

A rough answer isn’t hard to come by. Thinking sets the agenda for action, and thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity. The Nazis were explicit about the status of their victims. They were Untermenschen — subhumans — and as such were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together. It’s wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all the Jews, Gypsies and others were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats.

Jews were the main victims of this genocidal project. From the beginning, Hitler and his followers were convinced that the Jewish people posed a deadly threat to all that was noble in humanity. In the apocalyptic Nazi vision, these putative enemies of civilization were represented as parasitic organisms — as leeches, lice, bacteria, or vectors of contagion. “Today,” Hitler proclaimed in 1943, “international Jewry is the ferment of decomposition of peoples and states, just as it was in antiquity. It will remain that way as long as peoples do not find the strength to get rid of the virus.” Both the death camps (the gas chambers of which were modeled on delousing chambers) and the Einsatzgruppen (paramilitary death squads that roamed across Eastern Europe followed in the wake of the advancing German army) were responses to what the Nazis perceived to be a lethal pestilence.

Sometimes the Nazis thought of their enemies as vicious, bloodthirsty predators rather than parasites. When partisans in occupied regions of the Soviet Union began to wage a guerilla war against German forces, Walter von Reichenau, the commander-in-chief of the German army, issued an order to inflict a “severe but just retribution upon the Jewish subhuman elements” (the Nazis considered all of their enemies as part of “international Jewry”, and were convinced that Jews controlled the national governments of Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Military historian Mary R. Habeck confirms that, “soldiers and officers thought of the Russians and Jews as ‘animals’ … that had to perish. Dehumanizing the enemy allowed German soldiers and officers to agree with the Nazis’ new vision of warfare, and to fight without granting the Soviets any mercy or quarter.”

The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the ravages of dehumanization. Its hideousness strains the limits of imagination. And yet, focusing on it can be strangely comforting. It’s all too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was a bizarre aberration, a kind of mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologues who conspired to seize political power and bend a nation to their will. Alternatively, it’s tempting to imagine that the Germans were (or are) a uniquely cruel and bloodthirsty people. But these diagnoses are dangerously wrong. What’s most disturbing about the Nazi phenomenon is not that the Nazis were madmen or monsters. It’s that they were ordinary human beings.

When we think of dehumanization during World War II our minds turn to the Holocaust, but it wasn’t only the Germans who dehumanized their enemies. While the architects of the Final Solution were busy implementing their lethal program of racial hygiene, the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg was churning out propaganda for distribution to Stalin’s Red Army. These pamphlets seethed with dehumanizing rhetoric: they spoke of “the smell of Germany’s animal breath,” and described Germans as “two-legged animals who have mastered the technique of war” — “ersatz men” who ought to be annihilated. “The Germans are not human beings,” Ehrenburg wrote, “… If you kill one German, kill another — there is nothing more amusing for us than a heap of German corpses.”

This wasn’t idle talk. The Wehrmacht had taken the lives of 23 million Soviet citizens, roughly half of them civilians. When the tide of the war finally turned, a torrent of Russian forces poured into Germany from the east, and their inexorable advance became an orgy of rape and murder. “They were certainly egged on by Ehrenburg and other Soviet propagandists…” writes journalist Giles McDonough:

East Prussia was the first German region visited by the Red Army … In the course of a single night the red army killed seventy-two women and one man. Most of the women had been raped, of whom the oldest was eighty-four. Some of the victims had been crucified … A witness who made it to the west talked of a poor village girl who was raped by an entire tank squadron from eight in the evening to nine in the morning. One man was shot and fed to the pigs.

 

A few visionary, motivated, and hard-working activists have put together an incredible and invaluable collection of resources, by way of a backbreaking labor of love. The editors at a site called “Conflict Gypsy” have hunted down, collected, scanned, and posted online a wide array of magazines and zines relating to direct action, animal liberation, veganism, radical environmentalism, and other movements and causes.

Without their commendable efforts, these invaluable historical resources might have been lost forever, but now exist online in one place for activists and scholars to study and use. The amazing collection of grassroots activists’ writings, accompanied by informative introductions and contextualizations, demand that the history of radical environmental and animal rights/liberation movements, at least of the last few decades, be revisited and most likely rewritten. For this site features personal, political, and historical accounts written “from below” as Marxists say, from activists and liberationists themselves, rather than from bourgeois academics unconcerned with, ignorant of, or contemptuous of the direct action, underground, and liberationist point of view.

As members of the collective write about their motivations, goals, and playfully cryptic name for the archiving project:

“Conflict Gypsy was a term coined by Fur Commission USA spokesperson Theresa Platt. She applied it to the supposedly rootless liberationists who traveled the country wreaking havoc on animal and extraction industries. Those same activists told their stories and spread their ideas through small press publications in the pre-internet era. These magazines, papers, and Kinkos-stolen photocopies present the story of our movement as told by the participants and offer an invaluable insight into our roots.

Due to the fragility of the media on which these publications were printed, low print runs, and activist turnover, the history of our movement is disappearing at a disturbing pace. Over the years, many activists have also seen their libraries confiscated by law enforcement, never to be returned. By creating high-quality electronic versions and distributing them freely around the world, we aim to prevent the extinction of these rare, crucial bits of our past. Everyone has a few old things sitting in a box in their basement. It’s time we put all the pieces together and started sharing.”

This informative, rich, fascinating, and reader-friendly site is an invaluable source of information that preserves the past and facilitates the construction of a far better future. Let us hope it is not too late for history to matter.

Conflict Gypsy Website: http://www.conflictgypsy.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/conflictgypsy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/196584613709482/members/

Josh Harper Radio Interview on GP: http://animalvoices.ca/tag/conflict-gypsy/

Vegan Police Interview on CG: http://theveganpolice.com/main/?p=1375

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