by Steven Best

“Mankind’s true moral test … consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” Milan Kundera

The complexity of historical and social dynamics can only be adequately grasped from a plurality of perspectives. These include critical approaches such as Marxism, feminism, and critical race/postcolonial studies, and environmental determinism. To determinants such as class, gender, race, and geography and climate we must also add the decisive influence of animals on human history — or, rather, human-animal relations and interactions — such as become clear through use of the animal standpoint.

If we look at history from the animal standpoint — that is, from the crucial role that animals have played in human history and the consequences of human domination of nonhuman animals — we can glean new and invaluable insights into psychological, social, historical, and ecological phenomena, problems, and crises. I use the animal standpoint to shed new light on the origins, dynamics, and development of dominator cultures and dysfunctional power systems that structure our relationships to one another, to other species, and to the natural world in hierarchical rather than complimentary terms.

Animal standpoint theory looks at the crucial role animals play in sustaining the natural world and shaping the human world in co-evolutionary relations with human beings. While animals have played a crucial positive role in shaping human psychology and social life, they have not always been willing partners.  A main thesis of animal standpoint theory is that animals have been key shaping forces of human psychology, social life, and history overall, and that in fundamental ways, the domination of humans over animals underpins the domination of humans over one another and of humans over nature.

This approach stresses the systemic consequences of human exploitation of animals, the interrelatedness of our fates, and the profound need for revolutionary changes in the way human beings define themselves and relate to other species and the earth. While useful results have come from the arid scholastic field of “animal studies,” I am not interested in the sterile theory-for-theory’s-sake approach, but rather in mining new histories and theories for their practical implications that can revolutionize human existence. Unlike the largely apolitical field of “human-animal studies,” the animal standpoint is no more “neutral” or “objective” in relation to animals than Marx’s work was toward the working class or the Frankfurt School’s critical theory was to oppressed and suffering peoples. It is an ethically and politically engaged viewpoint that condemns the exploitation and slaughter of animals, and promotes the total emancipation of animals from all forms of human enslavement and domination, which demands revolutionizing  capitalism and dismantling, hierarchical societies, and dominator cultures. The animal standpoint is vital to a total liberation politics that promotes human, animal, and earth liberation as inseparably related struggles that need to unite against common enemies such as capitalism and the state. It advocates an alliance politics in which different radical movements work together toward the positive goal of shifting the dominant paradigms from hierarchy to equality, from growth to sustainability, from alienation to harmony, and from violence to peace.

This essay explores the animal standpoint in three different dimensions: (1) for the light it sheds on historical dynamics, the origin and development of dominator cultures, and current global, social, and ecological crises; (2) for its power to undermine speciesism, advance egalitarian arguments and liberation ethics, and debunk persistent myths in the inherent goodness of human nature; and (3) for its ability to expose the speciesist logic of pacifism and validate militant direct action tactics in defense of animals and the earth.[1]

I. The Epistemology and Politics of Animal Standpoint Theory

“We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves.” Donald Watson

Animal standpoint theory draws from a number of key influences and transcends them in bold new directions. First, it absorbs the perspectivalist philosophy of nineteenth century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.[2] Perception and cognition are always perspectival, Nietzsche argued, and he scorned those who believe that the scientist has privileged access to reality expressed in “objective” knowledge and truths. For Nietzsche there are no explanations, only interpretations, and science itself is interpretation, not “Truth.” Individuals always come to any type of knowing or inquiry already burdened by a host of presuppositions, biases, and limitations. A perspective is thus an optic, a way of seeing, and the more perspectives one has at one’s disposal, the more one can see. To avoid limited and partial vision, Nietzsche says, one should learn how to employ a variety of perspectives in the service of knowledge. We usually endeavor to acquire a single attitude of mind toward all the events and situations of life, but reality is too complex and many-sided to be grasped from one perspective.  The animal standpoint underscore the fact that history is always written from a particular view — not just from a Western, upper class, patriarchal, or racist bias, but rather more generally from a speciesist bias, that is, from the assumption that humans are superior to animals and utterly unique by virtue of their alleged rationality, such that all nonhuman animals are mere means to their ends.

Second, animal standpoint theory is an extension of feminist standpoint theory developed to illuminate patriarchal domination and its debilitating impact of women and humanity as a whole. Theorists such as Nancy Hartstock and Sandra Harding have developed a “feminist standpoint theory” designed to illuminate patriarchal power systems and their pivotal influence on society and history.[3] A key idea of standpoint theory — which can be traced back to the master-slave theory of nineteenth century philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel– is that from a subjugated and “inferior” social standing, an oppressed person or group can glean unique and important insights into the nature of social reality such as are opaque or unavailable to the oppressor’s highly partial position.

Standpoint theory employs the insights of socially marginalized figures to identify the partial, limited, and flawed modes of understanding held by those “inside” the dominant culture, and to underscore problems with the social order.[4] As Carolyn Merchant demonstrates in The Death of Nature, for example, feminist standpoint theory exposes how the alienated and violent psychology of patriarchy informs the “rape of nature,” oppresses women, and transforms the earth and animals into inert resources for human use and exploitation.[5] Similarly, people of color and postcolonial and critical race theorists can illuminate colonial domination, slavery, and racist pathology, all central to the origins of capitalist modernity that continue to structure and drive global capitalism in powerful ways.[6]

Third, animal standpoint theory builds on the modern leftist tradition that examines history from the perspective of the “losers” and conquered rather than the “winners” and conquerors. History written “from below” is integral to Marxist and populist theories that focus on the struggles of peasants, serfs, and urban working classes, and it motivated the genealogies of Michel Foucault that aimed to recuperate the voices of various marginalized groups buried by conventional (“bourgeois”) history as well as by the totalizing Marxist narrative that reduced all social dynamics to class struggle.[7] Animal standpoint theory provides the ultimate turning-of-the-tables narrative shift, for what groups have been more oppressed, for the longest period of time, and in the most intensive and invasive ways, than nonhuman animals targeted for human exploitation? In conditions where even the most powerless humans in most cases still have command over animals, and nearly all humans, however poor or oppressed, define themselves as superior to animals and have legal rights to own, exploit, and kill animals, the animal standpoint is the most radical gestalt shift in theory, history, ethics, and politics possible. If history is a struggle between the masters and slaves, humans in general are masters and exploitable animals are slaves.

As feminist and critical race standpoints yield crucial insights into the power pathologies of modernity and more, so animal standpoint theory, interpreting history from the perspective of human-nonhuman interactions, shows how speciesism and the exploitation of animals has had, is having, and increasingly will have momentous and disastrous consequences on all levels. The animal standpoint provides crucial insight for understanding the evolution and dynamics of violence, power, hierarchical domination, and dysfunctional and unsustainable societies.

Marxism, Environmental Determinism, and Eco-Humanism

“Civilization is based, not only on men, but on plants and animals.” J.B.S. Haldane, biologist

In the mid-nineteenth century, Karl Marx initiated a new approach to writing history that shifted emphasis from Gods and Kings to production, trade, labor, and class conflict. Whereas historiography was mired in the “idealist” view that history is driven by God or ideas, Marx revealed the underlying material forces of history in economics, production, and class struggle. The motor of history was driven by a series of class conflicts over the possession and control of production, resources, technology, and social institutions.[8]

Marx was utterly conventional, however, in limiting historical dynamics to relations among human actors, rather than also examining the larger field of action that included human relations to animals and how animals – as kind of labor power and productive force – decisively shaped history. “Radical” humanist historians like Marx congratulate themselves on demystifying history by excising religion and “resolving theology into anthropology” (Ludwig Feuerbach) in a “scientific” manner. But the mystification is only relocated, not removed, when historians see social relations as the only significant causal forces in history, apart from the role played by animals and the environment. Just as the story of ruling classes cannot be understood apart from their relations to oppressed classes, so human history cannot be grasped apart from co-evolutionary relations with animals and the physical environment and the powerful determining effects of animals and nature on human society.

A distinct bias, motivation, and agenda informs humanist histories: whereas religious histories celebrate God and reduce human beings to minor roles, so humanist histories deify “Man” and relegate animals to dumb beasts and inferior beings who exist as nothing more than resources for human use with no inherent value of their own. Indeed, all too often, there is total neglect of the fact that human evolution begins as animal evolution, that our social heritage has a lengthy biological heritage, and that human nature is first and foremost an animal nature. Thus, there is nothing about humans — no quality, not intelligence, sociality, etc — that we did not inherit from animals, such that we are different in degree not kind.[9]

Although Marx advanced a philosophical naturalism influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, he exaggerated our uniqueness and reduced animals to crude beasts dominated by instinct and devoid of thought, unlike humans whose labor is mediated by imagination and intelligence.[10] Marx emphasizes that social evolution emerges from biological evolution, but his mechanistic view of animals meant that the dialectical model of organic unity and developmental continuity gave way to a dualistic model premised on a sharp bifurcation between irrational beasts and rational humanity.  Animals are reduced to passive pawns of human ingenuity, viewed as objects of human domination rather than as active agents of varying degrees of complexity, subjectivity, and “intelligence,” and as co-participants and co-constructors of human history, culture, and identity.

Since at least the 1960s, feminists, Blacks, Native Americans, and others began exposing the fallacies of modern Eurocentric histories and theories, historiography, but little analysis was given to how more fundamental anthropocentric and speciesist ideologies distorted history and grossly misunderstood both humans and animals alike, due to breaking the continuum of evolution. The dominant mechanistic and dualistic paradigm created a chasm rather than bridge between animal and human evolution and the mechanistic model of animals precluded understanding animals as active agents and blocked insight into crucial role animals played in the co-evolution of agricultural societies.

Since the nineteenth century, geographers have developed theories of “environmental determinism” that reject humanist views of history as constituted solely through human-to-human interactions. In a devastating and humbling blow, environmental determinists emphasized that geography, physical terrain, climate, and other natural forces play a strong, often decisive, conditioning or determinate role in a wide array of phenomena, ranging from the emergence of bipedal evolution (and hence our earliest ancestors) to the organization of human societies and formation of power structures between them, and from different cultural formations to varying psychological temperaments.[11] Once introduced into anthropology, historiography, sociology, and psychology, and the focus shifted from humans as the sole or main generative forces in social change to the massive role the natural environment, geography, and climate play in how societies and cultures arise and develop. Decisive as the natural environment can be, however, “determinism” is too strong a word, for just as humans have not played the only role in shaping their own world, it is equally wrong to say they have played no role, and to reduce them to passive forces on which nature works, just as we have done in our mechanistic reduction of animals. In reality, there is a dialectical interplay whereby humans, who are shaped by natural forces, shape nature in return.

While a huge advance over the anthropocentric conceit that only humans shape human actions, and certainly as well over the theocentric dogma that social dynamics are the effects of a God or an Unmoved Mover, environmental determinists discount the importance of animals in shaping both the natural and social worlds. Like humanists, environmental theorists often reify animal agency, culture, and influence by reducing animals to “natural history” or moving parts of the backdrop of nature, as if they were inanimate objects.[12] Eco-anarchist and social ecologist, Murray Bookchin, for example, subsumes animals to the “first nature” of the “natural world,” opposed to the “second nature” of the “social world,” and thereby reserves significant capacities for thought, language, culture, choice, and creativity for humans alone. Bookchin emphasizes the “graded continuum” of subjectivity that emerges throughout the evolutionary process, as he simultaneously dichotomizes it into static and discrete boxes of first and second nature. This falsifies the psychological, intellectual, social, and moral complexity of animals, and fails to grasp even how animals can change and shape environments, and not just be changed and shaped by them.

From large predators such as wolves in the American southwest to the dung beetles in the rainforests of Brazil to pollinators everywhere, animals play critical roles in ecological diversity and stability. Wolves keep populations in check, help prevent overgrazing near rivers and streams, provide food for scavengers, and increase the fitness of future generations of their prey by feeding on the weakest individuals. Dung beetles spread seeds in the animal manure they transport throughout forests; and pollinators such as bees and butterflies germinate plants (including at least a third of which are staples in the human diet) and sustain biodiversity.[13] Social ecologists and environmentalists generally fail to even mention that factory farming, agribusiness, and exploiting animals for food is a leading contributor or the main cause of the most serious environmental problems threatening biodiversity, sustainability, and planetary balance — including water pollution, destruction of the oceans, decimation of rainforests and habitat, desertification, resource scarcity, and climate change.[14]

Whether anthropology, sociology, literary studies, or philosophy, the humanities view animals as passive objects determined by biology and genetics, devoid of subjectivity and culture of their own.[15] They frame animals as nothing more than resources, commodities, and the “raw materials” of human thought and action, whether as totems, objects of prestige, sacrificial bodies, or food. They assumed that only humans are conscious, self-directing, and purposeful agents, relegating animals to merely the foil and backdrop of human action. Animals have been systematically neglected and written out of representations of human experience. Yet the objectification of animals as things, biological machines, or indistinct parts of a natural backdrop is changing dramatically as a vital paradigm shift unfolds in philosophy, sociology, history, literary criticism, science, law, and other disciplines. In recent years, theorists from various disciplines have started to challenge the absence of animals in human history, to rethink human history and culture from its relationship with animals, and to analyze the role animals play in shaping history, experience, and identity. The new outlook, writes Erica Fudge, breaks from “an earlier form of history which focused on human ideas about and attitudes towards animals in which animals were mere blank pages onto which humans wrote meaning: in which they were passive, unthinking presences in the active and thoughtful lives of humans.”[16] A perspective that integrates animals into human life and history “is very different to the histories in which animals were merely blank pages onto which humans wrote their own perceptions … This new history is a history in which we are being asked to look at the ways in which animals and humans no longer exist in separate realms; in which nature and culture coincide; and in which we recognize the ways in which animals, not just humans, have shaped the past.”[17]

Thus, history is not a simple drama of humans unilaterally imposing their will on animals, always shaping them and never being modified in return, whereas animals shape not only the natural world but also have powerful determining effects on human societies as well. Part of the denial of agency is the erasure of resistance and rebellion and constant manifestations of animals’ will, choices, and desire for freedom. Foucault’s dictum that where there is power there is also resistance applies to animals as well as humans, despite Aristotle’s dogma that only humans as political animals and Kropotkin’s error that resistance to oppression is a unique human trait that distinguishes humans from other animals. Jason Hribal challenges us to recognize that “animals do not ‘naturally’ become private property, no more than humans ‘naturally’ come to sell their labor. Rather there is an active history here—one of expropriation, exploitation, and resistance.” Thus, media of all kind are rife with accounts of lions, orcas, elephants, and other animals routinely resisting human oppression and killing abusive trainers and keepers. Despite their clear knowledge that non-compliance will bring punishments such as beatings, food reduction, and solitary confinement, captive animals nonetheless rebel. They disobey rules, refuse to perform, assert needs and demands, break their cages, attack their tormentors and their paid agents, enablers, and collaborators.[18]

Speciesism and the Origins of Hierarchy

“The exploitation and slaughter of animals is the core oppression from which all others flow.” Charles Patterson

The animal standpoint examines the origins and development of societies through the dynamic, symbiotic interrelationship between human and nonhuman animals; it therefore interprets history not from an evolutionary position that reifies human agency as the sui generis of all things, nor as the autonomous actions of a Promethean species, but rather from a co-evolutionary optic that sees animals as an inseparable part of human history and as autonomous subjects and moral agents in their own right. And whether humans adopted a peaceful and respectful relation to animals, or whether we are a violent and exploitative species, in either case their influence was decisive on human psychology, social formation and change, and the natural environment.

Positively, nonhuman animals have been part and parcel of the human adventure from the start. Animals stimulated the awakening minds of our ancient hominid ancestors; they provided the images, models, and metaphors to organize social life; they were Gods and guiding spirits; they lit up the night sky in the constellation of stars; they were co-inhabitants of the animistic universe; they provided food, clothing, and resources; they were integrated into communities, domesticated, and thereby coevolved with us in life-enhancing ways. But, unfortunately, our exploitative, and speciesist relations with animals have prevailed for ten millennia and have been far more decisive in shaping the crises that threaten all life and the planet as we know it; hence, I will focus on the violent, alienated, destructive, and hierarchical relations we have formed with other animals that have scarred and marked our history and psyches, beginning with agricultural society and the domestication of animals.

It is impossible to imagine human society evolving as it did without large-scale hunting, speciesism, the domestication of animals, and the profound role that animals such as cattle and horses played in shaping history and social dynamics such as warfare. Perhaps the most decisive revolution in human history occurred in the shift from hunter-gathering to agricultural society. In place of a nomadic lifestyle taking food wherever they could find it, humans began to root themselves in one area in order to cultivate plants (farming) and animals (herding or animal husbandry); they thereby began to domesticate an increasing array of wild species. The “domestication” of animals is a euphemism for a regime of confinement, castration, forced breeding, coerced labor, hobbling, branding, ear cropping, exploitation, and killing – all human imposed cruelties which animals voluntarily seek and willingly endure. To conquer, enslave, and claim animals as their own property, exploiting them for food, clothing, labor (e.g., plowing), transportation, and warfare, herders developed technologies such as pens, cages, collars, chains, shackles, whips, prods, and branding irons.

According to Jim Mason, farming emerged in many different regions such as the Fertile Crest, but the Middle East distinguished itself from Egypt, Maya, Inca, Aztec, China, and India in its commitment to an expansionist and domineering way of life, rooted in the domestication of large animals such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep.[19] In the process of domesticating animals and plants, creating farming societies and herding cultures, a cascade of dramatic changes revolutionized societies and worldviews, changing forever the way people related to one another, to other species, and to the natural world as a whole. Everywhere agricultural societies emerged, they produced food surpluses, grew their populations, expanded their territories, waged large-scale organized warfare, and created the first social hierarchies including patriarchy, the state, bureaucracy, and classes, all of which grew out of the bloody soil of animal exploitation and speciesism. As agricultural societies became socially stratified, politically centralized, economically complex, and technologically innovative, people began to see themselves as independent from nature and superior to other animals. Indeed, they defined the nature of the “human” in direct opposition to the “animal,” on the grounds that humans had a “rational essence” and animals were mere “brute beasts” devoid of thinking abilities and psychological and social complexity.

As a direct result of hunting, herding, and animal husbandry, humans developed a dominator worldview, and the subjugation and killing of animals paved the way for subduing, exploiting, and killing other humans. The sexual suppression of women was modeled after the domestication of animals, such that men began to control women’s reproductive capacity, to enforce repressive sexual norms, to reduce them to a status of inferiority, and create patriarchal gods and culture. Slavery emerged in the same region of the Middle East that spawned agriculture, and, in fact, developed as an extension of animal domestication practices. In areas like Sumer, slaves were managed like livestock, and males were castrated and forced to work along with females. Whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, branding irons and other brutal technologies of control and confinement used throughout the modern international slave trade were first perfected on animals.

As Jeremy Rifkin describes, cattle played a decisive role in the emergence of dominator cultures.[20] Through plowing and agriculture, the exploitation of cattle has allowed human civilization; to an important degree, Rifkin argues, Western civilization was built on the backs of the cow and the bull, whose powerful and massive bodies were exploited for food, clothing, and labor power. According to Rifkin, around 4400 BCE, Kurgan people drove huge herds of cattle into Southern and Eastern Europe and subdued the small, peaceful Neolithic village communities with their hoofed armies and violent ways. This created the first great nomadic cattle empire in world history; it also brought an end to the peaceful farming culture of Europe. Their cultures rooted in cattle, Kurgs were inherently mobile and dynamic. Unlike agricultural society, they had no allegiance to the land, and no sacred connection to it; their identity was bound up with movement, exploitation, weapons, cattle, and mobility; they valued independence, militarism, acquisitiveness, and utilitarian sensibilities. They introduced into Europe large-scale herding, military technology, and new emphases on speed and mobility.

Similarly, in his classic text, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond describes the crucial role played by horses, whose power and speed allowed armies who commanded them unprecedented advantages; horses “may have been the essential military ingredient behind the westward expansion of speakers of Indo-European languages from the Ukraine.”[21] Horses also “enabled Cortes and Pizarro, leading only small bands of adventurers, to overthrow the Aztec and Inca Empires,” and thus helped establish European dominance on the battlefield and as a global colonialist and capitalism power.

But for Diamond, it is not any particular animal that alone endows some cultures with more advantage over others, but rather the totality of resources available to them through their mode of domestication of plants and animals. The overall availability of domestic plants and animals explains why empires, literacy, and steel weapons developed earliest in Eurasia and later, if at all, on other continents. Eurasia emerged as a powerhouse not because of superior culture or intellect, but rather due to the availability of domestic plants and animals and its fortuitous position on the globe. Whether and when the peoples of different continents became farmers and herders largely explains their contrasting fates. “The peoples of areas with a head start on food production,” Diamond argues, “thereby gained a head start on the path leading toward guns, germs, and steel. The result was a long series of collisions between the haves and have-nots of history.”[22] Moreover, the diseases humans acquired from animal domestication became a driving force of history once farmers, herders, and colonialists spread them to other populations. Indeed, more than guns and steel, it was the germs, derived from domesticated animals, that killed most of the people Europeans sought to conquer and that played a crucial factor in history overall.

Speciesism provided both the prototype for hierarchical domination and a battery of tactics and technologies of control.  Humans defined their “nature,” “essence,” and identity as “rational beings” only in direct opposition to nonhuman animals whom they erroneously defined as “irrational,” as wholly deficient in the quality that defined humans as unique, separate, and special. Humans prized rationality as a trait and endowment important enough to make all life and nature mere means to their ends and satisfactions. Once animals became the measure of alterity and the “irrational” foil to the human “rational essence,” it was a short step to begin viewing different, exotic, and dark-skinned peoples as brutes, beasts, and savages deficient in rationality, and thus non- or sub-human. The same criterion created to exclude animals from the human community was also used to ostracize blacks, women, “madmen,” the disabled, and numerous other stigmatized groups. The domination of human over human and its exercise through slavery, warfare, and genocide typically begins with the denigration of victims as inferior and subhuman — as “savages” “primitives,” and “mere” animals who lack the essence and sine qua non of human nature – rationality.

The discourse, logic, and methods of dehumanization are thereby derived from the human domination over animals, as speciesism provided the conceptual paradigm that encouraged, sustained, and justified the domination and slaughter of numerous group and types of humans that did not fit the rationalist, patriarchal model. “Throughout the history of our ascent to dominance as the master species, our victimization of animals has served as the model and foundation for our victimization of each other. The study of human history reveals the pattern: first, humans exploit and slaughter animals; then, they treat other people like animals and do the same to them.”[23] Whether the conquerors are European imperialists, American colonialists, or German Nazis, Western aggressors always engage in wordplay before swordplay, in order to vilify their victims – Africans, Native Americans, Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and other unfortunates – with opprobrious terms such as “rats,” “pigs,” “swine,” “monkeys,” “beasts,” “filthy animals,” “varmint,” or “cockroaches”. Once perceived as brute beasts or sub-humans occupying a lower evolutionary rung than white Westerners, subjugated peoples were treated accordingly; once characterized as animals, they could be hunted down like animals.

Animals, the first exiles from the moral community, provided a convenient moral discard bin for oppressors to dispose the oppressed. The connections are clear: “For a civilization built on the exploitation and slaughter of animals, the `lower’ and more degraded the human victims are, the easier it is to kill them.” [24] Thus, European colonialism is an extension and outgrowth of human supremacism. For just as humans had subdued animals with their superior intelligence and technologies, many Europeans believed that the white race had proven its superiority by bringing the “lower races” under Western command. The international slave trade borrowed heavily from the technologies of animal domination that emerged with domesticating wild species, including cages, shackles, branding, and auctions. There are, moreover, direct and profound connections between animal breeding and racist eugenics, between speciesism and racism and anti-Semitism, between the industrial technologies and division of labor first developed in modern slaughterhouses and the mass killing of human beings in Nazi concentration camps.[25] As Theodor Adorno noted, “Auschwitz begins when people look at a slaughterhouse and say, ‘They’re only animals.’”

The Animal Standpoint, Ethics, Justice, and Human Nature

“We must acknowledge and internalize the animals’ perspective on us and our treatment of them. We must accept the complete legitimacy on an equal plane with ours, and we must fully integrate the implications of their perspective into our outlook on politics, economics, and society. Only then will it be possible to develop an overarching social or political theory that treats animals justly.” Charles Patterson

In an ethical sense, the animal standpoint has value and consequence on numerous levels, such as determining the rules of justice, obtaining a full evaluation of the moral character of a society or individual; and gaining a critical perspective on Homo sapiens as a species with strong violent, aggressive, hierarchical, and dominator proclivities.

Too often, people have an absurdly high estimation of themselves as “good” and of humanity as an evolved and moral species, despite individuals’ endless capacities for self-deception and the prodigious evidence testifying to humans as deeply flawed and disturbed animals. It is one thing to critically assess human nature in view of how humans frequently torture, degrade, and murder one another, but a much darker picture of humanity emerges if considered from the animal standpoint. Obviously, animals cannot tell us in human language what they really think about us, or I am sure we would wither at their vehemence, righteous anger, and profane fulminations. Think, for instance, of the powerful quote by English author, professor, and Anglican priest, William Ralph Inge: “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.”[26] Or recall the powerful deconstruction by Isaac Bolshevism Singer, who in a 1972 novel famously noted that “in their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis.”[27] As nineteenth century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer correctly notes, “Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”

Moving from caustic aphorisms to book-length critiques, recall the powerful critique of humanity in Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein, written in 1818, which was a powerful indictment of humanist hubris, the scientific will to power, and technology out-of-control.[28] Shelley’s classic also provides a strikingly poignant and critical view of human animals from the perspective of a creature that is neither a nonhuman nor human animal. In the figure of the “monster,” Shelley deconstructs the line between the natural and artificial, persons and things, the born and the made, and presents the sensitive creature as a physically and mentally superior being to its human creator and to humankind as a whole. As Dr. Frankenstein allegorizes Dr. Faust, his assembled creature exemplifies Rousseau’s “natural man.”Born innocent and without malice, the creature endures a series of human cruelties that ultimately bring him to hate humanity and lash out in violence. But a far deeper and more informed contempt for Homo sapiens wells up as he comes upon a history book that exposes the systemic presence of violence, warfare, genocide, and destruction throughout human history, and he recoils in horror.

Similarly, in his novel, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn makes the animal standpoint his central narrative device.[29] Quinn dramatizes the deep ideological and structural flaws of humanity through a Socratic dialogue between a gorilla owned by a circus and a man who stumbles upon him. Once the man overcomes the shock of a gorilla who can speak to him telepathically in perfect English, he participates in a weighty discussion, led by the gorilla, organized around a critical contrast between two fundamental modes of existence. Whereas hunting and gathering bands are sustainable “leaver” cultures, agricultural societies are growth-oriented “taker” cultures that adopt unsustainable modes of existence, live in disharmony with themselves and all life around them, and arrogant elevate themselves to the supreme end to which all life and things serve as mere means. With keen irony, the gorilla notes that after ten thousand years of confining and exploiting other animals, it is the human species which is the true “captive,” as the hierarchical structure of agricultural societies have perpetuated disastrous societies and ideologies which humans have proved unable to critically examine and change. Like the creature in Shelley’s tale, the gorilla in Quinn’s story provides a crucial critical perspective on “civilization” through the animal standpoint, whereby thinking and speaking nonhuman life forms provide devastating critiques of human existence as something fundamentally flawed, utterly dysfunctional, and barbaric and insane rather than rational and wise.

Some films dramatically show the consequences of the animal standpoint. Without question, one of the most powerful critiques of human speciesism, sustained over five decades, are the many episodes of the Planet of the Apes (POTA) movie series. 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. 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 Charlton 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. One of boldest pro-animal liberation mainstream films to date is the latest installment of the POTA series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which centers around Caesar, the subject of an experiment with a genetically modified retrovirus designed to cure Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, however, only boosts the intelligence of chimpanzees and kills humans. Caesar leads a violent outbreak from a prison-like compound, they prevail in a battle with police on the Golden Gate Bridge, and escape into the woods. The movie is unambiguous in its sympathetic portrayal of the plight of chimps, adopting their standpoint for a vigorous critique of vivisection and human supremacism, and unabashedly supports their violent overthrow of human oppressors.

Through the animal standpoint we acquire profound ethical insight made possible by a gestalt shift in ethical evaluation, such that a crucial touchstone for gauging the ethical character of a society, culture, or individual is how they view and treat other animals. One cannot adequately assess the moral worth, philosophical depth, and humanity of cultures or individuals until one examines their views and relations toward animals and the natural world. Just as ethnic and women’s studies forced reconsideration of the claims western society made for its “civilization” and “progress,” so we must reexamine human societies once again from the animal standpoint. According to the quote attributed to Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” Just as no person who traffics in slavery can be regarded as having moral integrity, so no person who abuses or neglects animals is praiseworthy, and the animal standpoint compels us to look at people and society in new ways, enabling us to recognize Homo sapiens as the violent, alienated, disturbed, domineering, murderous and self-destructive species they are.

One ancient test is through the “Golden Rule,” a moral perspective common throughout world religions and cultures such as the Judaic, Christian, Confucian, and Stoic traditions. The Golden Rule, of course, enjoins us to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated by them. This ancient maxim common to numerous religious traditions is nonetheless perennially relevant, insofar as it is an indispensible decision-making technique for deciding right and wrong. It thus brings together both empathy and the principle of reciprocity, which is linked to a principle of logical consistency. Only prejudice and logical inconsistency prevents us from applying the Golden Rule to our relation with other animal species. As nineteenth century English novelist Thomas Hardy believed, Darwinism “logically involved a readjustment of altruistic morals, by enlarging … the application of what has been called the `Golden Rule’ from the area of mere mankind to that of the whole animal kingdom.”

Basically restating the Golden Rule in more complicated language, eighteenth -century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that actions should be considered from the perspective of the “categorical imperative.”[30] According to Kant, we should not act in any way that we could not universalize our action without logical contradiction. It is a contradiction, for instance, to demand that everyone follow the law except oneself. The idea of consistency is crucial here, for if we take the Golden Rule or categorical imperative one step further — beyond the boundaries of  it to our relations with animals — one must ask oneself: Would people want animals to treat them in the same manner they treat animals? Would they want to be slaughtered for food, experimented on, bred for coats and clothing, or forced to perform in a circus race, or rodeo, or aquarium? Since the answer must be “no,” one is compelled to confront one’s own inconsistency, hypocrisy, double-standards, and unjustifiable discrimination against animals. From this perspective, the POTA films can be seen as the logical consequence of speciesist inconsistency.

To test the validity and consistency of our actions in another way, we can also apply the social contract theory of twentieth century philosopher John Rawls.[31] Seeking a new theory of justice that formulates its principles from an impartial standpoint, Rawls asks us to adopt a “veil of ignorance” from which we know nothing about our position or status in a hypothetical society. We do not know if we are rich or poor, white or black, male or female, old or young. We cannot favor or privilege ourselves in any way, Rawls reasons, since we have no knowledge of our social standing, and thus we can formulate fair and impartial principles of justice that benefit all people equally. While critics have noted Rawls’ failure to broaden his theory from justice within one nation to international or global justice, in order, for instance, to address the obligations rich nations have to poor nations, it is also important to extend it beyond the humanist standpoint altogether.

Here, in addition to other unknowns, the veil of ignorance would preclude knowledge of one’s species membership, and thus whether or not one would be bringing home the back or one would be the bacon. Not knowing whether one would be a human being, a cow, a pig, or a chicken would logically motivate one to structure the rules of justice to ensure fairness, liberties, and rights for all species. The animal standpoint provides an even more forceful support for Rawls’ veil of ignorance device, for which possible outcome would ensure fair deliberation more: ending up as a member of a disadvantaged class of humans or as a battery cage chicken forced to endure the nightmare of captivity before the horror of a prolonged death? Such a device, applied consistently, would logically entail constructing a society free of vivisection, hunting, flesh consumption, and the myriad other ways humans exploit other animals.

Thinking Like a Mountain (Lion): The Animal Standpoint and Militant Direct Action

“You give me one whale that disagrees with the action and we will stop doing that action, but until then we don’t give a damn about what humans think.” Paul Watson

 “Tell it to the horses.” Former ALF prisoner Peter Young’s retort to pacifist critiques of Jonathan Paul’s 1997 arson attack on Cavel West Horsemeat Slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon

The animal standpoint is crucial for understanding human-nonhuman animal relations throughout history, and thereby gaining critical insights into the origins and development of psychological, social, and ecological crises. It is indispensible not only to understand social organization and change; or to adequately assess the character of individuals, culture, and humanity as a whole; but also for rethinking tactical issues and strategies for resistance and revolutionary struggle. Where discussion is repressed, censored, and stultified due to the hegemony of pacifist dogmas, the animal standpoint allows us to consider tactics from the standpoint of victims rather than victimizers; it can thereby quickly restore common sense and moral clarity to a discourse dominated by the purveyors of violence and their dutiful choir housed in various “opposition” movements.

As “patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels,” so pacifism is the last hideout for speciesists, including vegans and “animal advocates.” Except for extreme pacifists, most people acknowledge the legitimacy of violence in cases such as self-defense and as necessary to stop implacable forces of evil such as Hitler and the German Nazi military. Yet when it comes to defending innocent animals under violent and sadistic attack in fur farms, vivisection laboratories, and other chambers of horror through sabotaging exploiters’ property, liberating animals from captivity, breaking the law in any way, or especially through violent resistance and what I call “extensional self-defense,” there is clearly a double standard underlying a logical inconsistency. It says, in effect, that human lives are prized enough to merit violent means of protection and defense if necessary but nonhuman animals are not.

When considering ethical and tactical problems and issues, we should stop taking corporate, state, media, mainstream “animal advocacy” groups, and public opinion as barometers of legitimacy and arbiters of action never to offend or transgress. To silence the roar of conformity and complacency and to override the superego of the state which consigns us to playing their game, using their rules, and staying cordoned off in safety zones of ineffective action, we can gain fresh insights and new stimuli for creative action by adopting a radically different perspective.  Instead of asking if a course of action is legal or would be popularly received by an apathetic and largely irrelevant public, we adopt the standpoint of animals, to ask: “What would oppressed and tortured animals want us to do? What course of action would they approve and which would they condemn as inadequate and a betrayal?”

Discussing a problem such as huge dams being built for the profits of corporations over species and ecosystems, Derrick Jensen asks: What is the most moral thing to do? Do we stand by and watch the last of the salmon die, or blow up the dam? Do we write letters, file lawsuits, and similar time-consuming actions that have been proven to fail, or do we take out the dams ourselves?”[32] To those who seek education and legal based strategies, Jensen retorts: “What if those in power are murderous? What if they’re not willing to listen to reason at all? Should we continue to approach them nonviolently? When is violence an appropriate means to stop injustice? With the world dying—or rather being killed—we no longer have the luxury to ignore these questions. They are questions that won’t go away.”[33]

To shake people from their egocentric slumbers and humanist complacency, Jensen asks us to shift the paradigm and adopt the perspective of the ecosystems at risk: “What if, instead of asking `How shall I live my life?’ people were to ask the land where they live, the land that supports them, `What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?’ If you ask that question, and you listen, the land will tell you what it needs. And then the only real question is: are you willing to do it?”[34]

There is some value in Jensen asking us to take the perspective of, to hear the “voice” of, nature. If calls into question individualist pursuits of “the good life,” as defined apart from what is good for animals and the land, and it can plug our ears long enough to drown out the siren song of humanist pacifism and consider from the earth’s perspective what actions are necessary and desirable. Of course, nature cannot speak in any sense; animals can convey their pain and suffering quite articulately in their cries, expressions, and behaviors, but they cannot tell us anything precise in human language (with the exception of primates who communicate general meanings through sign language or lexigrams).

From the standpoint of the earth and other animals, should we adopt it using empathy and imagination, we could ask at least a basic question: What would they want, to live or to die? To exist intact and in peace or to be violently assaulted, blown up, and destroyed by greedy human industries and the increasing demands of a rapidly growing human population? Would they want us to be patient, follow the law down the interminable path of futility? Or would the land and animals want us to protect their existence, security, and peace by repudiating the law and defend their interests through adopting direct action tactics? My point is not to suggest we meditate and get in touch with the voices of the fishes, bears, and rivers, but that we rethink our political priorities and tactics from the animal and environmental perspectives.[35]

But one cannot presume to know in any concrete way what nature “wants” or “needs.” One can be wrong or misinformed, and cannot presume more than the most general axiom that land and life “wants” to live, not die. Should one grant this much to Jensen’s thought-experiment, listening to the voice of nature hardly amounts to a rigorous thinking about complex philosophical, political, tactical, and organizationalssues. Random and sporadic acts of sabotage, for example, however crucial in many instances in shutting down exploiters once and for all, and however justifiable from a moral point of view, are ad-hoc, piecemeal, rear-guard, and limited strategies which are hardly tantamount to a revolutionary theory and politics that addresses the inherent problems and contradictions of civilization and capitalism and proposes a viable alternative the dysfunctional dominator cultures.[36]

Moreover, Jensen in these passages at least tends toward liberal, Thoreauvian individualist-conscience based approaches rather than social and political solutions to social and political problems. The determinants of the capitalist system are undertheorized, as is the question of how to organize a revolutionary social movement and build a new society that transcends the dysfunctional problems and pathologies of civilization. These are huge, complex issues that we glean little insight from talking to fishes and rivers. What we get instead are vague calls for resistance and hope for the complete collapse of civilization, without clear plans for the reconstruction of social life beyond returning to hunting and gathering lifeways.

It is not enough to stop a violent act, to blow up power lines or a dam, to attack a laboratory, or to liberate animals; we must confront, oppose, and transform the entire global system. More than anything, this culture and planet needs a systemic anti-capitalist politics, and working on educating and organizing people around total liberation and alliance politics. While I argue for the necessity of such work, I am not suggesting there are adequate theories and politics for such a daunting task, nor am I glibly optimistic that at this advancedstage of global and social crisis – in our current world of corporation domination, neoliberal hegemony, growing authoritarianism, species extinction, environmental destruction, and climate change – that such transformation is likely or even possible. My pessimism is based on the completely inadequate responses of governments, NGOs, activists, and people in general to urgent social and ecological crises. Where disinformation, propaganda, ignorance, and apathy do not reign, reformist and collaborationist strategies dominate whereby environmental and animal advocacy groups, for instance, either fail to press for radical change or opportunistically advance their own interests by collaborating with the very corporations and industries they should bring down.

A related question to the ones raised from animal and environmental standpoints would be: “What would future generations want us to do”? Radical environmentalist, Paul Watson, gives us yet another perspective – which I will call the “future generations standpoint” – from which to question knee-jerk condemnations of militant direct action and revolutionary struggle. From the perspective of future generations – would sabotage seem “radical” or barely adequate to the task? Watson observes, first, that while today environmentalists are a minority of populations such as in Western societies, they actually represent a vast majority, as one can safely assume future generations will have no choice but to focus on pressing environmental issues. Moreover, although environmentalists currently are derided or vilified as “whackos,” “extremists,” and “ecoterrorists,” those unlucky to struggle amongst a degraded planet at the end of the century would likely view the radicals of today as the only sane and responsible citizens and condemn pacifists and moderates as dreamers and cowards who failed in their moral duty to stop the blatant and intensifying assault on animals and the earth. Thus, Watson quipped, from the perspective of future generations, environmentalists “make damn good ancestors.”

By deploying anti-speciesist, biocentric, and future generations standpoints, we obtain productive ways of approaching complex philosophical and tactical questions. These new optics facilitate support for mass resistance, militant direct action, and revolutionary counter-violence in defense of peoples, animals, and a planet under increasingly aggressive assault. The vegan, animal rights/liberation, and environmental movements desperately need new ideas, new perspectives, and new tactics. The animal, ecological, and future generations standpoints open up new spaces for thought and new possibilities for action that can override the repressive dogmas of mainstream politics (based on education, the party system, and legislative reforms) and fundamentalist pacifism.  Instead from animal and ecological, and future generation perspectives, actions such as sabotage, liberation, counter-violence, occupation movements, and social revolution, such as seem “radical” and “extreme” to so many today, would rather be condemned as tepid, cowardly, and wholly inadequate to the task.

Conclusion: Deciphering the “Riddle of History”

“As an evolutionary strategy, exploitation has had its day.” Colin Tudge

 The animal standpoint seeks generally to illuminate human biological and social evolution in important new ways, such as reveal the origins, dynamics, and development of dominator cultures, social hierarchies, economic and political inequalities, and asymmetrical systems of power. Through the animal standpoint, we can glean important lessons regarding the origins of hatred, hierarchy, violence, war, slavery, racism, patriarchy, colonialism, anti-Semitism, and the genocidal insanity of the Holocaust. Providing perspectives and insights unattainable through other historical approaches, the animal standpoint analyzes how the domination of humans over animals is intimately linked to the domination of humans over one another, as it also brings to light the environmental impact of large scale animal slaughter and exploitation.

According to the animal standpoint, speciesism was the first form of hierarchy and domination, and laid the groundwork for other forms of oppression, power, and violence. Given that exploitation and domestication of animals was crucial for other power systems, one is tempted to say, paraphrasing Marx, that animal standpoint theory, not communism, is the solution to the “riddle of history,” as it casts a blinding light on problems that one cannot even see or identify through the dark lens of humanism. Moreover, the animal standpoint fleshes out the category of class in crucial ways; just as class is an empty category without gender and race, so it is without species, for capitalism is increasingly rooted in the most massive system of slavery of all time.

While it is important to have various theoretical perspectives that can map the origins and trajectory of patriarchy, class, state, race, and so on, the animal standpoint, with few exceptions, has been ignored. The burgeoning field of animal studies is changing this, but its arid, positivist, scholastic, and bourgeois framing precludes politicizing the profound insights into the nature and genesis of the key crises plaguing the world today. As I deploy it, the animal standpoint is meant to overcome the sterile, detached, apolitical, theory-for-theory’s sake nature of animal ethics and virtually the entire field of “animal studies,” including the increasingly sterile and pseudo-radical sub-discipline of “critical animal studies.” History written from the animal standpoint is no more neutral or objective in its support of exploited animal species than was Marx’s “science” of history designed to awaken, empower, and unify the workers of the world. Rather, it explores the revolutionary potential of animal liberation and promotes a politics of total revolution that engages struggles against transnational capitalism and oppression of all kinds. Its ultimate goal is to help dismantle every oppressive and dysfunctional hierarchical system that thwarts freedom, creative activity, self-organization, and diversification.

The animal standpoint examines the crucial importance of animals to our existence and to the planet as a whole, in ways humans rarely comprehend from within their straightjacket of speciesism. The animal standpoint sees the freedom and happiness of humans and animals to be inseparably interconnected, and highlights the grave consequences for humans when they violate animal lives on a massive, global scale such as is characteristic of modern societies. The animal standpoint underscores how human liberation is implausible if disconnected from animal liberation; thus, humanism collapses under the weight of its logical contradictions. If the animal standpoint analyzes how the domination of humans over animals is intimately linked to the domination of humans over one another, then, conversely, it shows that humans will never establish peaceful, just, and sustainable societies until they renounce their arrogant speciesist identities and learn to be humble and harmonize themselves with the millions of other life forms on this planet.

While not widely recognized as such, the animal standpoint is a crucial perspective for critical theory and radical politics, offering unique insights into human history, the origins and dynamics of hierarchy (including patriarchy, slavery, and racism), the ubiquity of warfare and violence, social and ecological crises, and the conditions necessary for a viable future. As the critical theory of society is immeasurably enriched through the animal standpoint, so the animal standpoint needs a critical social theory to understand how animal exploitation in the modern world is driven by capitalist profit and growth imperatives; operates within a despotic state apparatus that serves corporate interests and violently suppresses dissent; and is embedded within a repressive technics and instrumental rationality that objectifies nature, animals, society, and human lives within alien machinery and instrumental logic.

The animal standpoint is indispensable to class, race, gender, and environmental optics, just as they are important to it. Yet, whereas a few animal studies theorists incorporate these social perspectives into their analyses, humanist approaches — be they conventional, liberal, Marxist, anarchist, feminist, or post-colonialist – rarely employ the animal standpoint; they sometimes deride it, but mostly are oblivious to it. In addition to social dynamics in general, the animal standpoint illuminates the causes and nature of environmental crises typically occluded by radical ecology.

But animal advocates do not just represent the interests of all animals oppressed by humanity, they work also – whether they realize it or not — for the benefit of the earth and humanity itself, as animal liberation and veganism have profound implications for resolving the global ecological crisis, as they also work to improve human health and medicine, to reduce hunger in undeveloped countries, to promote social justice (such as for farmers displaced from their land by agribusiness and the livestock industry), to dismantle social hierarchies, and to advance moral consciousness a qualitative leap beyond humanism. At their best, these movements promote the process of moral progress necessary for humans to evolve psychologically, to harmonize their existence with other species and the earth, and to forge a viable future. The abominations humans inflict on animals inevitably rebounds to haunt and harm human existence. The exploitation of animals poses a grave threat to global ecology, to countless imperiled species, and to the future of humanity, which looks increasingly problematic, troubled, and bleak.

Thus, the animal standpoint is unique in that, first, people employ it in the service of representing the interests of a group other than themselves, quite unlike the parochial and fragmented nature of identity politics.[37] Second, paradoxically, if developed in a rich holistic context, the animal standpoint also seeks to benefit or liberate human beings from conditions of oppression, suffering, and danger. Moreover, when exercised in its full and proper scope, the animal standpoint is more comprehensive than any other form of standpoint theory, as it addresses the dysfunctional technological, economic, political, legal, and social systems that oppress humanity, animals, and degrade all ecological systems and the earth as a whole.

Without understanding the co-evolution of human and other animals, and the systemic psychological, social, and ecological crises and consequences brought about by speciesism, animal domestication, the rise of agricultural society, and the “Might is Right” psychosis of “civilization,” we cannot formulate an adequate theory of history, hierarchy and power, and social organization and change. Without the animal standpoint, we cannot adequately understand human conflict, the dynamics of warfare, the pathology of violence and genocide, the alienation of humans from one another and the natural world, and the dynamics driving the current ecological crisis, such as stem principally from corporate agriculture and the global livestock industry. And if we cannot understand key causes of our current crisis, then we surely cannot solve these crises, nor forge a better culture, humanity, and future for ourselves and all life forms on this planet.


[1] This essay, a first draft, draws from my forthcoming book, Animal Liberation and Moral Progress: The Struggle for Human Evolution (Rowman &Littlefield, 2013).

[2] On Nietzsche’s theory of perspectivism, see fragments of his writings collected in The Will to Power (New York: Vintage, 1968). For critical theory of “multiperspectivalism,” see Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations (New York: Guilford Press, 1991).

[3]  See, for instance, Nancy Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism,” in Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka (eds.), Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science. Springer Publications, (283-310).

[4] For his classic discussion of the master-slave relation, see section B IV A in G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford University Press, 1979).

[5] Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1983).

[6] For analyses of how racism, colonialism, and slavery served the purposes of capitalism, as they still do, see Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington DC: Howard University Press, 1981).

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

[8] See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, in The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. Robert C. Tucker) (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978).

[9] See Steven Best, “Minding the Animals: Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism,” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 2009 (

[10] See Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Early Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1992).

[11] For two recent examples of environmental determinist analysis, see Brian Fagan, The Long Summer; How Climate Changed Civilisation (New York: Basic Books, 2004), and David Beerlin, The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth’s History (Oxford University Press, 2008). Climatic shifts involving dramatic heating and cooling changes have brought about great changes in the physical environment and life of organisms. Millions of years ago, for instance, the drying climate in Africa led to the shrinking of forests and opening of savannas, and thereby forced our ape ancestors to adapt to new conditions – as they did by becoming bipedal which evolution allowed through initiating a major structural transformation of their brains and bodies. Jared Diamond, as I understand his main argument and methodology in Guns, Germs, and Steel, is essentially re-reading human history by using environmental determinist and animal standpoints.

[12] See Murray Bookchin, The Social Ecology of Freedom (AK Press, 2005). For a critical overview of Bookchin’s work, see Steven Best, “A Critical Appraisal of Murray Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom,” Organization and Environment, September 1998.

[13] On the crucial importance of pollinators for biodiversity and the human food supply, see Stephen L. Buchman and Gary Paul Nabhan, The Forgotten Pollinators (Island Press, 1996). On the role of large predators such as wolves in sustaining ecosystems, and the consequences of the human war of extinction against them, see:  For the impact of biodiversity loss on ecosystems and the global climate, see “Biodiversity loss significant impact on ecosystems,” Environmental News Network (

[14] For an overview of the environmental impact of animal exploitation, meat production, factory farms, and the agribusiness model, see David Kirby, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010).

[15] Barbara Noske, “The Animal Question in Anthropology: A Commentary,” online at:

[16] See Erica Fudge, “The History of Animals” (

[17] Ibid.

[18] See Jason Hribal, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance. (AK Press/CounterPunch Books, 2010). Also see my analysis of his book, “Animal Agency: Resistance, Rebellion, and the Struggle for Autonomy” ( /).

[19] Jim Mason, An Unnatural Order: The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature. (New York: Lantern Books, 2006).

[20] See Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1995).

Rifkin provides us with a whole new perspective on history, the history of society from the standpoint of its relation with cattle. Also see Alexander Cockburn’s essay, “A Short Meat-Oriented History of the World from Eden to the Mattole” (

[21] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.(New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), p. 91.

[22] Ibid, p. 86.

[23] Charles Patterson, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (New York: Lantern Books, 2002), p. 109.

[24] Ibid, pp. 47-48.

[25] See David Livingston Smith, Less Than Human: How We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012).

[26] Quoted in Franklin Le Van Baumer, Main Currents of Western Thought (1978), p. 774

[27] Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies, a Love Story (1972), Ch. 9, §3.

[28] Mary Shelly, Frankenstein (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).

[29] Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (New York: Bantham, 1995).

[30] See Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[31]  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

[32] Jensen, “What Goes Up Must Come Down,” Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth 465 (AK Press, 2006), p. 287.

[33] Ibid, circa p. 466.

[34] Derrick Jensen , “World at Gunpoint: Or, what’s wrong with the simplicity movement,”

[35] In his book, Language Older Than Words, Jensen suggests that the chickens he slaughters for money “want” to be killed; if this is the voice Jensen hears, it seems as absolutely wrong as the developer’s perspective, who no doubt thinks at some level that rivers “want” to be dammed and forests “want” to be clear-cut.

[36] This is an obvious limitation to the ad hoc, sporadic acts of sabotage and liberation done by member of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and other underground militant direct groups. While ALF actions, for instance, are clearly defensible in their proven success in liberating animals who otherwise would suffer and die and in weakening or shutting down various exploiters altogether, they do not contribute directly to the need for system change and revolutionary transformation of society, although they do keep the spark of resistance alive.

[37] See the critique of identity politics in Steve Best and Douglas Keller, Postmodern Theory; also see Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, “Dawns, Twilights, and Transitions: Postmodern Theories, Politics, and Challenges,” Democracy and Nature, Vol. 7. No. 1, March 2001, pp. 101-117 (