Tag Archives: relationships

Something Other than They Are

Recently I was involved in a discussion on another forum initiated by a hopeful vegan person asking if there was a humane source for animal based food for carnivorous pets.  My response was that there is not.  Though with great populations of domesticated carnivorous animals who are dependent on humans for food, we are, so far, fraught with choosing the life of one animal over another.

Plant stuffs can be formulated to meet the health and nutritional needs of some obligate carnivore species, namely domesticated cats.  And omnivorous ones, such as dogs, generally cruise easily on vegan diets.   However, should this option fail a particular animal, Gary Francione, esteemed promoter of the grassroots Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights,  explains that in our responsibility to all domesticated species who are already in existence we may succumb to a morally excusable use of one animal for the food of another however morally unjustifiable it remains.  Of course,  the greater goal and where our efforts must go is to the end of domestication all together supported by human veganism. Only then will our moral quandary cease.

The emotional pain of any vegan’s moral dilemma of feeding carnivore domesticates should not be dispelled by a delusion of  so called humane slaughter or happy exploitation up to the point of death of those animals who would be food. Neither of these is realistic.   Not to mention, our emotional suffering is not the problem, but a symptom of our radical error to use animals at all.

A colleague of mine also participating in the discussion commented that the exception of excusable immoral use of some animals for the sake of feeding others brought about the sense that if we care for carnivorous animals who by force  have no choice but to depend on us -and we owe them care – at least we are not expecting them to be something other than they really are.

From this point I have borrowed the topic from that forum in order to expand on some of the demoralizing effects of domestication here.  Though my colleague understands well the importance of accepting any species for its true nature, her comment turns the spotlight on the very foundation of domestication, which  is the requirement that all species in fact be denied of who they truly are in order that we may exploit them for particular attributes of theirs that we calculate as being beneficial to us.

Two common pet species illustrate this well.  Dogs,  which are known in the form of over 300 hundred breeds today, are all related genetically to the wolf.   However it came about for humans to take the step to the ongoing domestication of the wolf for specific human purposes, this artificial selection could be maintained only by killing the ones born who did not display the desirable traits of the service requirements – regardless of whether they would be otherwise healthy and viable animals for life in the wild. In other words,  some of the very traits that make a wolf  who he truly is were seen as undesirable in the domesticated  version. We either killed off possessors of those traits or eventually curtailed those traits that cannot be erased by husbandry by non-lethal punitive measures. Dogs now still suffer this fate.  And the wolf itself is generally scorned by those who keep his natural prey, or the domesticated version of  the now extinct original prey species, as livestock.

What measures will society not take to make sure that dogs will not wander large territories, travel in packs, hunt or kill  what would be typical prey species, vocalize at certain volumes or durations, dig holes,  gnaw things, etc.? All these are traits that make a dog, derived from wolf, who he really is.

Cats, loved and hated seemingly in equal measure, also live in the balance of the whims of humans.   We are thrilled when they hunt and kill rodents, but vilify them for doing the same to birds, while the mechanism and instinct to hunt and kill either is no different. By the way, it’s popular to cite the numbers of birds killed by domesticated cats each year to prove their evil, while never mentioning the numbers of all species of animals killed unnecessarily each year by humans. The former pales in contrast to the latter. We have felt justified to mutilate their feet with claw removal (actually toe removal) to save our furnishings from their natural scratching habit. At the same time we leave them for hours in lonely abandonment because we think their apparent independent habits mean they don’t need attention, stimulation or social life.

For a plurality of species enslaved to our use we don’t want some parts of what makes them who they really are as long as those behavioral characteristics or anatomical features get in the way of our ego satisfaction, ease of use, or the financial bottom line.  Horns, ears, tails, beaks, wings, hair coats, teeth, hooves, whiskers, etc.,  all may be amputated, mutilated or otherwise altered to meet some human desire (sometimes disguised as need), regardless of the adverse effect on the animal.

When we want more of some  behavioral characteristic or physical attribute,  we breed to accentuate those out of proportion to the point of ill health or disability.  We manipulate the living conditions to override biological rhythms to meet our demands or expectations without regard to how it might affect the animal’s quality of life by taking away from her all that would be her natural tendencies.  The health problems of these animals  are usually mitigated only by their early age of slaughter or otherwise shortened life span. Perhaps they become the beacon for a specific campaign to  improve their welfare through regulation during the inescapable servitude of their forced existence, but that never will end the problems.

We may attempt to replicate certain habitat and activity preferences in some cases, but often these are only a fractional mimic of the wild/free life and all are subject to human judgment as to appropriateness or even necessity.  We have to have the time and want to afford them, as well, let alone have the financial wherewithal  to do so.

Of the wild animals that remain undomesticated for lack of usefulness to us or for inability to survive in captivity, they are often assigned the role of pest or trophy, as if their very act of living is annoying or a status symbol to be won.  Pests are regularly adjudicated by capital punishment to preempt any real or imagined danger potential  of their natural habits as they affect humans or other domesticated animals .  Their territories are blockaded by fences and screens – sometimes weaponized with barbs or electricity – or the earth is laced with poison, or set with maiming, if not deadly, traps.

Water is cut off  to them or whole ecosystems are destroyed leaving them nowhere to move and nothing on which to live.  Some attempts on their part to survive within the human development that has overwhelmed them are portrayed as aggressive and hostile offences.  Then, we may just shoot them, blow them up or burn them out.

When we are emotionally and intellectually struck by the immoral unfairness, the inequity, the sorrow and the brutality that comes to domesticated animals and the wild animals subjected to demise as the side effect of domestication our responsibility is not to make the system of domestication easier to live with, but to follow the signs pointing to our mistake and resolve our dis-ease by recognizing  that we can – and ought to – live without domestication.

Non-violent communication with and education of animals living with humans because of domestication is a popular subject recently that deserves attention, but not as a justification for ongoing domestication. More importantly, the inroads into the development of mutual relationships without coercion and use between human and non-human animals are vital for the care still owed to all the domesticated animals already in existence.  A primary tenet of this approach indeed requires that we see all species for who they really are.  Being used by humans is not part of that picture.

***
Further Reading –

Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

“Pets”: The Inherent Problems of Domestication

 

 

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Gaining Vision

By questioning the legitimacy of domestication of animals and finding it irrational as a means to a just and peaceful world, we are responsible for developing a viable alternative way of living.

The new culture without domestication is underway.  Daily, ongoing abolitionist vegans and newly turned abolitionist vegans reject the use of animals as justifiable and each of them who is able takes care of animals who are refugees of domestication.

In the previous essay (Recognizing a Blind Spot) I mentioned fear of apocalyptic conditions and worse case scenarios for animals as domestication ends (But what will happen to all the animals if everyone goes vegan?),  as well as the desired and habitual companionships between animals and humans that many people do not want taken from them. Both fears may cause reluctance in supporting the end of domestication.

If we are to take ending domestication seriously, we do have to answer the question  of the potential extinction of certain species.  This may be distasteful and feel Machiavellian to some, but let us not forget that many of the domesticated breeds came at the price of extinction of their wild predecessors.  I would argue that the entrenched practice of domestication preceded Machiavelli in its manner of “dishonesty and killing of innocents” as the means to its power.1

If we hang on to domestication as a supposed virtuous means to avoid extinction of some species – ones who absolutely depend on our compensatory care at huge expense to so much more – we risk the extinction of other species who are at least equipped to live independently if we return them access to untold acres of land and water.  Not to mention that these free living species are vital for biodiversity and ecosystemic well being.

Keep in mind that as domestication dies out we would regain the ability to grow more plants for human consumption, which requires less acreage and water to sufficiently feed everyone to good health. We would reinstate forests and other public lands that have been co-opted or destructively usurped for unsupportable numbers of domesticated grazing species.  We would allow the return of large predators who for generations have been persecuted and driven to destitution, toward extinction, if not forced extinct entirely.

Undoing the disaster of animal domestication  may push our emotional buttons, but it is a selfish anthropocentric reaction to lament life without dogs, cats and others whose lives are valued conditionally according to our arbitrary criteria.  If we agree that animals have the right not to be property we agree there is no choice but to stop forcing existence of some while denying the valid existence of others.

Having animal lovers among us who are comfortable and knowledgeable about caring for refugees of domestication is key to a healthy transition away from domestication. For any person reading this at the time of publishing who can’t imagine living without certain animals, it can almost be guaranteed that in your life time you’d have plenty of needy animals to adopt or foster through this transition.  If we were to end breeding of all domesticated animals today it would be at least one human generation (25 -35 years) for the youngest of some of them to reach their potential natural lifespan (longer for certain species like some birds and elephants.)

This timeline would most probably be extended by the fact that all breeding would not end at once, and some may not be reasonably or easily controlled at first.  Feral, stray and unwanted animals represent  a desperate population already,  in the midst of domestication. As it ends support for the teams of caregivers will be developed.  New or expanded professions of caregivers and educators related to humans and animals sharing territory under the right of none being property will emerge.

Educating ourselves on the ways to have relationships with animals without expectation of them serving us to fulfill their reason for being alive not only goes to meeting our obligations to them for forcing their existence, but presents an opportunity to reconcile with nature and begins our revised outlook toward  the roles of human- animal relationships in the new culture. By ending animal use we are able to spend time building relationships without dominance or superiority, not only between us and the animals for whom we care, but with our fellow humans.

Through non-violent education teaching people to see animals as beings deserving of living in freedom alongside us and enjoying the right not to be human property is the gateway to letting go of our fears of not having animal relationships. Most people already agree that it is wrong to unnecessarily cause harm to animals, so guiding them to develop mutual relationships with those in their care without expectations and baggage of traditional human-animal relationship concepts is an early phase of our transition out of domestication.

Many people I know, myself included, are turning their homes and properties of acreage into sanctuaries that support  this work.  By removing the methods of coercive training and forced behavioral compliance  we learn to communicate with animals in a way that acknowledges their sentience and intelligence, that does not require dominance or punishment and begets a cooperative relationship that respects the boundaries of etiquette and safety.

Taking this approach with animals for whom we do care develops our understanding of meeting the other human and non-human beings of the world  with whom we may think we have no relation as exactly  the same as those we already hold dear. With unconditional love, where no one is “other”, there is freedom and justice.

Notes:
1. Niccolo Machiavelli,  Wikipedia

Recommended Reading:
howdoigovegan.com