Well, red velvet femme is still having internet issues, and I've been traveling, so I'm not sure when blogging will resume in earnest. But I've been thinking a lot about some discussions that are happening on the human-animal studies listserv. There are some animal welfare advocates who fervently believe that all animal breeding and pet-keeping involves exploitation, and that the end of domesticated animal populations is a worthy goal. It's easy to dismiss this as some kind of ivory tower insanity or fringe freakery, but I've watched this debate unfold for years and the argument continues to gain steam and the people who believe it gain power.
This iteration of the debate has been more heated discussion than what usually takes place on this (mostly academic) board, with a fair amount of snark involved. Some sensible folks have rightly pointed out that all kinds of relationships involve some aspects of utility, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
What has been most striking to me lately is the very serious ways in which people are describing domestication of animals in terms of slavery and also imperialism. In animal studies circles, this idea that domestication of animals should be abolished is known as the "abolitionist" approach. The comparison of domesticated animals to human slaves is hardly new, and comparisons abound, but when this is brought up it's usually done cautiously and with qualifiers out the arse. It may not be that every animal welfare advocate who identifies as an abolitionist believes that domestication is tantamount to slavery (or that it simply *is* slavery), but the reference is surely there.
I'd like to articulate some kind of response to all this that goes beyond mute horror. It's definitely fair to remind ourselves, over and over again, of the power imbalance and inherent inequities involved in animal-keeping. I'm not sure though that it's fair to insert cattle into the same position as African slaves or colonized people in a new vegan freedom narrative. It's just not the same. It's just not. But why?
It's not just because I can't imagine life without my animal companions. That would be true, and I also pity all the poor saps that will live in future generations without rabbits doing binkies in their living rooms if these new abolitionists win out. I don't want to imagine life without family farms (there are few enough of those left anyway), with sheep for wool and cows for milk, chickens for eggs and goats for laughs. Did slave owners feel the same way? Maybe the tradeoff would be worth it if it would in fact be a world without cruelty, or at least without the same institutions and cultures of cruelty.
It bothers me to think that the eventual goal of these abolitionists is that domestic animal populations and breeds would die out. Only animals that could survive in the wild would continue. And I don't know what would become of self-domesticating animals like dogs under this scenario. To think of dogs being cast out of human society is approaching the realm of the bad sci-fi novel. But stranger things have happened, are happening. Not that history is ever a justification, but we've evolved together for a long, long time. Who would we be without each other?
Part of the abolitionist argument seems to be that breeding animals to fulfill human needs is especially problematic, more so than companion animals. And it's true that there is something vaguely fascist about the fetishization of purebreds - at least when those that aren't purebred are devalued (or worse). Still, I feel like we haven't really figured out what it means to compare (animal) breeds with (human) race. And besides, is there no room for all the diversity of domestic animal breeds or hope for compassionate stewardship, if not human-animal partnerships? Does animal welfare really dictate a complete reboot?
I guess I find it especially ironic that while so much prejudice against pit bulls only barely disguises anti-black racism, with the result being the extermination of pit bulls, now we're holding up the emancipation of slaves as a model for freeing domesticated animals, with the same result - but for all breeds. Race is alternately effaced and trotted out, whatever suits the argument for animal welfare, in this bizarro world where freedom equals death and white privilege equals moral superiority.
This Week in Animal Rights (Oct. 7, 2019)
5 days ago