Socialism and the lives of animals

November 6, 2009

I WANDERED onto the Reader's Views page of today after reading Paul D'Amato's article "Socialism and 'animal rights.'"

I would like to chime in on this discussion because so many people who are deeply concerned about the fate of animals and the future of the planet support "animal rights" and become vegetarian or vegan as a result. They don't subscribe to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) often offensive campaigns (which recently have relied on outrageously sexist images, including women fellating broccoli, so offensive the Super Bowl wouldn't show it), but are often familiar with the utterly barbaric use of factory farming and its environmental costs.

Many of the responses already posted articulated this very clearly. I'm mainly going to talk about humans' use of animals as food, and whether this is in opposition to socialist ideals.

Socialists should be 100 percent against factory farming and the unnecessary cruelty it entails. That neither means we should become vegans in response, nor should we morally bludgeon ourselves and others when we have little choice but to consume their products.

We also need to be completely clear that the argument that factory farms are more efficient is a lie. They are only more "efficient" if the only "input" you look at is human labor. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are highly subsidized (just like the rest of Big Agra), and so unregulated that costs such as environmental clean-up simply never show up on the bill.

Human consumption of animals is a natural part of an omnivorous diet--a diet that is vastly different depending on culture and geography. Some human diets use meat as supplementary protein, and others use animals as their primary source of nutrition, period. Is anyone really arguing that Inuit tribes should stop fishing out of respect for fish when it is the largest source of calories and nutrients in their environment? I doubt it.

Each species of animals has its own unique intrinsic nature that deserves respect. The question is: Does eating an animal fundamentally disrespect its nature? I think the answer is no. But the organization of raising animals today absolutely violates any ethics when it comes to animals (or people or the environment). Capitalism does not allow many species to live out that nature as instinct intends; in fact, capitalism has eliminated species on a scale not seen since major global atmospheric and climatic changes. Those that do survive do so under the pressures of the for-profit system.

Animals that are useful to the for-profit system have been bred and gene-spliced to increase their output of meat as a commodity, and then are treated as nothing more than production units. This happens not on "farms," but at CAFOs. The subversion (or outright dismissal) of the animals' instinctive, natural behavior--to graze, to breed, to rest--leads to low-quality meat, disease and environmental wreckage. It is utterly destructive for both the animals subject to it, and the humans who live nearby or consume their meat.

I think this point of view--that animals AND humans are suffering--is more common than it used to be, and there is no reason for us to make straw-man arguments about PETA being like Nazis.

Other species don't need political rights like the vote, as Paul lays out, but they absolutely deserve the ability to live out life according to their instincts. It does border on silliness to attempt to equate the consciousness of a chicken with that of a person, but it's unnecessary, since the life of a chicken should simply be respected on its own terms. But part of the life of a chicken is predation. They simply do not die of old age. Just because humans organize our predation socially doesn't mean that it's unnatural or inherently cruel.

What I think gets confused by people dedicated to animal rights is the natural role of predation that exists between species, and the current system of abuse and commodification. Animals should not be viewed as commodities, not because their intelligence makes them our equals, but because the commodification of our environment and the products of our labor is the source of our own slavery within capitalism as well.

As humans, we also are denied our intrinsic nature, or what Karl Marx called our "species-being." Our species-being requires us to thoughtfully shape our environment through our social labor to meet our material needs. This ability of humans is as stunted and subverted by capitalism as is a hog's instinct to root when it lives its life in a 2-foot-by-7-foot metal pen.

Our interaction with nature has changed both nature (by domesticating animals) and ourselves (domestic animals changed our size, population and immune systems dramatically). Both sides of the equation could benefit enormously (and have historically) from this relationship. Torture and abuse are not intrinsic to human nature--not in social relations nor in meeting our nutritional requirements.

Whether or not meat eating and domestication of animals for food is part of a future socialist society is not something we can say for sure, and I doubt there will be just one answer. I believe humans can think well about our fellow species, ending the unhealthy warehousing of other living creatures, forcing unnatural reproductive schedules on them, and literally killing them with stress. To me, that doesn't rule out eating them after a relaxed life that fulfills their unique nature to graze or roost or burrow, and promulgate their species.

What isn't debatable in my mind is that every species under socialism would live more full and satisfying lives, each according to their ability, each according to their needs.
Amy Muldoon, New York City

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