Archive for August 10, 2012

Marc Bekoff,  Psychology Today, August 10, 2012

Every now and again I receive an email message I ignore after reading the subject line. I know I’m not alone in following this rule of thumb, but today I broke down and opened a message the subject line of which read “Scientists Declare: Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious“. I honestly thought it was a joke, likely from one of my favorite newspapers, The Onion. However, it wasn’t.

My colleague Michael Mountain published a summary of a recent meeting held in Cambridge, England at which “Science leaders have reached a critical consensus: Humans are not the only conscious beings; other animals, specifically mammals and birds, are indeed conscious, too.” At this gathering, called The Francis Crick Memorial Conference, a number of scientists presented evidence that led to this self-obvious conclusion. It’s difficult to believe that those who have shared their homes with companion animals didn’t already know this. And, of course, many renowned and award-winning field researchers had reached the same conclusion years ago (see also).

A 5 1/2-year-old chimpanzee named Ayumu performs a memory test with randomly-placed consecutive Arabic numerals, which are later masked, accurately duplicating the lineup on a touch screen computer. Chimps could memorise the nine numerals much faster and more accurately than human adults.

Michael Mountain was as incredulous as I and many others about something we already knew. It’s interesting to note that of the 15 notables who spoke at this conference only one has actually done studies of wild animals. It would have been nice to hear from researchers who have conducted long-term studies of wild animals, including great apes, other nonhuman primates, social carnivores, cetaceans, rodents, and birds, for example, to add to the database. Be that as it may, I applaud their not so surprising conclusion and now I hope it will be used to protect animals from being treated abusively and inhumanely.

Some might say we didn’t really know that other animals were conscious but this is an incredilby naive view given what we know about the neurobiology and cognitive and emotional lives of other animals. Indeed, it was appeals to these very data that led to the conclusions of this group of scientists. But did we really need a group of internationally recognized scientists to tell us that thedata are really okay?  Yes and no, but let’s thank them for doing this.

I agree with Michael Mountain that “It’s a really important statement that will be used as evidence by those who are pushing for scientists to develop a more humane relationship with animals. It’s harder, for example, to justify experiments on nonhumans when you know that they are conscious beings and not just biological machines. Some of the conclusions reached in this declaration are the product of scientists who, to this day, still conduct experiments on animals in captivity, including dolphins, who are among the most intelligent species on Earth. Their own declaration will now be used as evidence that it’s time to stop using these animals in captivity and start finding new ways of making a living.”

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

The scientists went as far as to write up what’s called The Cambridge Decalration on Consciousness that basically declares that this prominent international group of scientists agree that “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” They could also have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling (see also).

So, what are we going to do with what we know (and have known)?

It’s fair to ask what are these scientists and others going to do now that they agree that consicousness is widespread in the animal kingdom. We know, for example, that mice, rats, and chickens display empathy but this knowledge hasn’t been factored into the Federal Animal Welfare Act in the United States.

I’m frankly astounded that these data and many other findings about animal cognition and animal emotions have been ignored by those who decide on regulations about the use and abuse of other animals. However, the Treaty of Lisbon, passed by member states of the European Union that went into force on December 1, 2009, recognizes that “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Let’s applaud The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness and The Treaty of Lisbon and work hard to get animals the protection from invasive research and other forms of abuse, in many cases horriifically inhumane, they deserve.

Some recent essays I’ve written point out that there still are some people who feel comfortable killing individuals who they call “unneeded” or “surplus” animals and at least one animal welfarist, Oxford University’s Marian Dawkins, continued as of a few months ago to claim we still don’t know if other animals are conscious and that we should “remain skeptical and agnostic [about consciousness] … Militantly agnostic if necessary, because this keeps alive the possibility that a large number of species have some sort of conscious experiences … For all we know, many animals, not just the clever ones and not just the overtly emotional ones, also have conscious experiences.”

Perhaps what I call “Dawkins’ Dangerous Idea” will now finally be shelved given the conclusions of the Cambridge gathering. I frankly don’t see how anyone who has worked closely with any of a wide array of animals or who lives with a companion animal(s) could remain uncertain and agnostic about whether they are conscious.

It’s said that repetition is boring conversation but there’s now a wealth of scientific data that makes skepticism, and surely agnosticism, to be anti-science and harmful to animals. Now, at last, the prestigious Cambridge group shows this to be so. Bravo for them! So, let’s all work together to use this information to stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious animals in the name of science, education, food, amusement and entertainment, and clothing. We really owe it to them to use what we know on their behalf and to factor compassion and empathy into our treatment of these amazing beings.

By Usnea, Earth First! Journal,  2011

I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea, and air. Today, more than ever, the Earth needs our effective action using all the methods of resistance at our disposal. Radical actions and radical movements grow out of supportive cultures. Let us once again build a strong supportive base for them.

Don’t get me wrong. During the Green Scare, in which dozens of activists  were incarcerated, our movement got seriously screwed with, and we   have had some extremely hard times because of the outstanding repression   we have faced for the last six years. I want to remember that we were   targeted by the powers that be because we were effective. Not only was EF! a growing force with which the state and corporations were fearful to reckon, but also that other more radical affinities were being   forged in our communities.
To state it clearly, ELF actions came out of our communities and shared struggles. The FBI knows that. Its been said in court by their officers. Its been written in their documents. Instead of shying away from that, let’s say it proudly. We already face major repression. Pretending that is not the case does nothing but mislead new folks and create more fear. Let me say it again: the majority of underground ecological actions that took   place over the last decades grew out of our movements that were supportive of them. Our movements were the incubator.

Are you disheartened that there are less radical actions attacking the root causes of the ecological crisis? Me too. So let’s take one effective, tangible step towards changing that by openly celebrating all tools in the box.

However, when celebrating, we should be mindful of practical lessons of security culture learned from the Green Scare. The best practical advice in celebrating sabotage is to publicly celebrate, but not to publicly incite. Inciting is illegal. For example, yelling, “The logging trucks are coming, everybody get into the road, block it, and then firebomb the fucker!” Not so smart.

But, it is not illegal, for example, to get excited around the camp fire, stand up, and read a particularly eloquent communiqué out loud while others clap, cheer, and celebrate how the bad guys got their asses kicked that round. It is not illegal to talk about how awesome the blockade and sabotage was (in the hilarious communiqué below, for example) and say proudly that you wish there were more like it. And, it should not be illegal to openly support and generally advocate the use of incendiary devices. But please note, there are no promises in love and eco-war; the state and its courts have proven over the years that if they want you bad enough, universal human rights of speech and expression may not matter. A friendly lawyer checked this part of this article out and agreed that the do’s and dont’s listed here are indeed the case.

With that all said, I propose that EF! gets back to openly and publicly celebrating radical, underground tactics, in our songs, our stories, our Journal, and on our T-shirts (anyone remember the one that read: I torched Vail, ask me why).

ELF arson attack on Vail, Colorado ski lodge, October 18, 1998. The lodge was built on clear-cut forest and prime lynx habitat.

If there is a knock on your door by the agents of state repression (supposedly because of your undying, unabashed support of pouring abrasive compounds into gas tanks, loosening bolts that hold up power lines, or smashing computers at your local biotech facility.) So what. Yep, just more evidence, that we live in a police state. Let’s use that knock as a springboard to organize stronger and more effective resistance to state harassment.

And a quick note about security culture, because I feel like our movement has gotten way off track with that subject. Security culture is the building of awareness intended to keep one safe from repression. It is essentially a set of guidelines on how to live in an active resistance movement where individuals may or may not be breaking the law, and minimize risks of the state cracking down on us. It is not a bunch of paranoid random rituals or estranged superstitions, nor is it folks being alienating to new people or a way to act cool and superior. It is, in fact, a whole bunch of behaviors and, for lack of a better phrase, social protocols—which are always evolving—for how to behave in order to keep yourself, and everyone else you interact with, safer. It is something that should be done so fluidly that most of the time, others don’t even know you are doing it. And when eventually it is needed for you to “call someone out” you will do it in a way that makes them feel all the more welcomed and a part of a learning movement, as opposed to alienated and even more unsure as to how to act responsibly, right?

Perhaps the most damaging events from the Green Scare are behind us. But the brunt of the cleanup and lessons we still must learn lie ahead. The Green Scare cracked some of the foundations of our movement leaving us unstable and, in my opinion, in desperate need of shoring up.

One of the reasons I think our movement continues to get smaller and smaller is because we have, out of fear, limited and censored ourselves. Our support of radical direct action is one of the main things that made us unique. There are no other groups like us around; no other above ground ecological activist group that vocally supports, unabashedly and un- apologetically, the use of every tool in the tool box to take down this fucked up system and hopefully save what little we have left, so that it can recover from the plague of industrial civilization.

Long live the Earth Liberation Front!


P.S. Since its not illegal, I wanted to share some excerpts from a communiqué that was sent out October 13, 2008, after the Canadian Pacific Railway sabotage took place. Pass it along! Share it with friends! Enjoy!

“In an attempt to cause a shitload of economic damage to the infrastructure of the CP rail main-line, we cut down two telephone poles across the tracks just to the north of their main intermodal yard outside Toronto. A pile of fallen trees was ignited with gasoline across the tracks, and we molotov’d one of those weird grey box things that look pretty important and are full of electrical shit. We also tied copper wire across the tracks to signal the blockage so no one would get hurt. That was way more exciting than a turkey dinner!

…For us the Spirit Train is every train, they’re all spread- ing “Olympic spirit,” or more like the spirit of capitalism: construction materials, military equipment, useless consumer products, tourists…

Fuck it all. Every ride on the rails is a ride for the same invasion that’s been goin on since the railway was built to colonize this whole place. This rail system has been developed and is utilized to serve our exploiters and enemies. As long as the exploiters exist, infrastructure will always be their weapon. So we wanna destroy it all… their railway, highways, cameras, telecommunications, it’s all serving the masters and their police. We’re not interested in expressing our dissatisfaction at a symbolic part of the problem. We want to actually dismantle the whole system and hit these cracker-ass-capitalists where it hurts. It’s not just the Spirit Train; it’s every train, the tracks and the social structure they maintain!
This is solidarity with all the comrades raisin’ hell wherever they live. Keep the struggle burning locally, and your solidarity reaches globally. This chaos was for the warriors everywhere who are still facing charges for their involvement in acts of resistance quite like this one. It don’t matter how hard they come down on us cause there are too many of us waiting to explode. Let’s show’em what we can do and aim for our actual objective! … Every train—stopped, every track—untied, every jail—destroyed!”

Yet another concession from the vivisection-industrial complex that militant direct action (MDA) tactics (liberation, sabotage, and intimidation) have been all too effective weapons against them. As reported in the UK blog, Animal Warfare:

“An article in the Guardian about 2 activists convicted of peaceful protest and free expression reveal some interesting admissions from those inside the vivisection industry – old school animal rights tactics work! While many peoples response will be ‘no shit’, it is a point worth re-emphasising as the movement becomes increasingly pacifistic in the UK.

The Guardian reports that `In 1981 there were 34 companies breeding laboratory animals. Today there are just three because of activists’ intimidation of staff and of companies supplying services and products to laboratories.’

This is confirmed by Andy Cunningham, a Harlan manager who admits `Part of the overall reduction in company numbers has involved consolidation of businesses, but there is no doubt that intimidation has led to the closure of many other companies.’

Replace ‘intimidation’ with ‘robust protest’ and they are totally right! The animal rights movement has the formula for success. While we must adapt to the changing legal framework we must not abandon the time-tested methodology.

We must focus our energy and get back to old school animal rights. But focus on what? Professor Roger Morris, head of bioscience at King’s College London gives us a clue `We are now down to our last three major breeders in the UK. We can manage with that, but if we lose another we will be in a very uncomfortable situation.'”

Here are some more juicy confessions:

“Because of terrorist acts by animal activists, crucial research projects have been delayed or scrapped. More and more of the scarce dollars available to research are spent on heightened security and higher insurance rates. Promising young scientists are rejecting careers in research. Top-notch researchers are getting out of the field.” Susan Paris, president of the pro-vivisection group Americans for Medical Progress

“Where the direct, collateral, and indirect effects of incidents [of sabotage] are factored together, the ALF’s professed tactic of ‘economic sabotage’ can be considered successful, and its objectives, at least toward the victimized facility, fulfilled.” Report to Congress on Animal Enterprise Terrorism

“[Militant direct action tactics are] changing the kind of work people will do in the future. If students come to me interested in primate research, I would tell them to think about other things.”UCLA vivisector, Dario Ringach, who reluctantly abandoned nonhuman primate research in 2006 after relentless ALF attacks on his colleagues.

So next time a pacifist tells you that MDA “doesn’t work” and is “counter-productive,” tell them where to shove their ignorant, treacherous lies.

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