I have always loved words. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t amazed by the power of words, both written and spoken. I’m big on word meanings and the idea of animal rights hasn’t sat well with me for a while, at least not since I gained an interest in both anarchism and black liberation.
As I read more and more about anarchism I realized that the State isn’t the be-all and end-all for change. But it was my own readings into both the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power/Liberation movement(s) that my eyes really opened. I had learned every February for 13 years about the Civil Rights movement, about how it won all these rights for African-Americans. But I read about and saw with my own eyes that it didn’t solve all the problems facing Black folks. Thats when anarchism and the Black Panthers entered my life. Black Panthers weren’t depending on the State to create change in their communities, but they weren’t going to silently take care of their communities– the State heard their complaints loud and clear (by the way I know this piece focuses heavily on Black folks, and I don’t mean to marginalize other people of color, because my readings of Yellow, Red, and Brown Power movements also helped me develop my thoughts). And though a ton of shit still needs to be done for liberation of all folks of color, and the Black Panthers were far from perfect, the Black Panthers presented ideas that were revolutionary in scope and that could lead to real radical change.
So what does this have to do with animal rights? And why do I have a problem with it? Animal rights don’t sit well with me for several reasons.
Animal rights are dependent on the State. Only the State can give rights, and as we’ve learned, from history, law alone doesn’t change things. By relying on the State we give up some of our autonomy for creating change. The other problem is the laws on the books don’t protect a lot of animals, despite the sort of discourses Animal Precinct may create. The law doesn’t change people, at most it puts people in cages, and puts animals in different ones.
Animal rights also get co-opted by consumerism. If we think boycotting this company or that company to force cruelty-free products (dubious phrasing for the most part) is all we need to do then again we are falling short on creating real change.
Animal rights also compartmentalizes suffering. If we can get specific laws passed then the animals will be slightly better off. When we get a law passed the image becomes that now things are ok. When a corporation bends on one point, its a victory to be celebrated. An example for this is the KFC Canada/PETA thing. PETA has basically advertised for KFC by telling folks to go buy the new vegan option, and though it is wonderful that KFC now has a vegan option, and more “humane” conditions for the chickens it kills, i still kills chickens in the same numbers as before. The only ones who benefited were vegans with a new option at KFC.
Animal rights, being dependent on a rights-base discourse, also has a habit of ignoring other issues. Intersectionality doesn’t even enter the discourse, because when you are fighting for a new law or rule, one has to be specific. This specificity in discourse means you can care a helluva lot about animals, but be sexist or racist (or engage in supporting any sort of system of oppression) and yet again PETA pops to mind.
I prefer animal liberation (despite the fact that I hate Singer’s book). As I learned, from the Black Panthers, liberation encompasses the tactics used in rights-based discourses but isn’t limited to them. One can write to a politician or corporation and whether or not something is done a that level, change will be sought anyway. I also feel that liberation struggles are linked in a way rights are not. When fighting for liberation one is actively engaged with dismantling the system(s) of oppression, and if oppressions are linked (which a lot of us seem to think they are), then one can fight several battles with the same action. I think that liberation is more full, where as animal rights creates legal change that forces people to treat animals differently, animal liberation is a fight for a paradigm shift, for political, legal, social, psychic, an material changes in how we all interact with animals.