“The same historical process that has taught us the value of modernity has also made us the victims of modernity” -Pather Chatterjee, Our Modernity
Coloniality is not a derivative or an unintended side effect of modernity, it is coeval and thus constitutive of modernity. Coloniality is referred to as the dark-side, the under-side of modernity. We then can speak of the modernity/ coloniality tandem to address the current social problems. -Rolando Vázquez, Modernity Coloniality and Visibility: the politics of time
“The approach of these so-called activists in our view is intended to disdainfully depict His Majesty and the Zulu nation as people who are still trapped in darkness.” – IFP MPL Blessed Gwala
“I’m appalled by his behavior and him accusing the Cherokee of being barbaric.” Chief Mitchell Hicks
Often we find animal rights organizations engaged in campaigns against the use (often presented as misuse) of animals by indigenous peoples, people of color, and other colonized and formerly colonized peoples. This is not a fact unique to just animal rights activists, but can be found in the campaigns engaged in by Leftists of various stripes, one need only look at the post-9/11 war fetishism of many first world feminists or the hegemonic views of people of color as “more” homophobic than other groups (evidenced in the blaming of the Black community for the passing of Proposition 8 in California).
Animal rights activists should engage with these communities, but a question of how arises when we look at the ways with which most animal rights organizations approach this engagement. We see time and time again that the techniques used often involve appeals to state power or public campaigns that paint these people as in some way backwards or un-modern. That is, often what is used are colonial frameworks that reinforce old systems of power and tred heavily on the autonomy and sovereignty of other groups.
Colonial power plays are often created in terms of a binary, with a reliance on a rhetoric best exemplified by George W. Bush, “Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” which:
…makes it untenable to hold a position in which one opposes both and queries the terms in which opposition is framed. -Judith Butler on post-9/11 politics, Precarious Life
Often the discussion becomes framed as a strong sense of morality opposed to a moral relativism that will never call anything wrong.
In critiquing the techniques and tactics of organizations that rely on such a strategy one is often derogatorily accussed of being a moral and cultural relativist, or of not caring about the animals. What is not left is a space for critique of tactics which is needed for the development of animal advocation that does not rely on colonial power structures, but more importantly strategies that work.
Time and history are not neutral concepts. They are imbibed with political and cultural meanings which affect the ways with which we approach everything. Rolando Vázquez, in his critique of “modern time” explores the ways in which modernity/coloniality effect the way we view history:
The critique of modern time shows that modernity is the time that rejects the past, affirms the present as the site of the real, and construes the future in the semblance of a teleology. Core ideas of modernity, such as progress, history, universality, individuality they all correspond to this conception of time.
In modernity, the present is affirmed as the site of the real, it is the site of objectivity, it designates the space of power…
…On the other hand, coloniality comes to light, as the movement of oblivion, of the rejection of the past. It is the expression of a time that praises the present as the site of the real and the future as the horizon of expectation and the ultimate source of meaning.
The idea of modernity/coloniality as expressed by Vázquez is relatively new in decolonial/postcolonial scholarship, but one can trace the interrelatedness of modernity and colonialism to the works of Fanon, Memmi, and Césaire. The ideas of modernity: universalism, progress, individuality, the denial of the past made the colonial project possible, likewise colonialism provided/provides the geographical and economic expansion to keep modernity running. That is why they are often expressed as being two aspects of the same force.
When debates erupt concerning colonized peoples and certain cultural or economic practices that use animals the defense when challenged is an appeal to such modernist ideals of universality and progress. All too often claims of barbarity, primitivism, etc are used; a challenge for the colonized people to join us in modernity. There is a refusal to recognize the histories that affect how these arguments are percieved by colonized peoples. A call of barbarism or primitivism is an invocation of coloniality, a challenge to a people’s autonomy.
To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was”. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History
A people who have faced the colonial side of modernity/coloniality can not be expected, nor should they, respond kindly to arguments that claim what they do is backwards or un-modern.
Attempts to circumvent dialogue, after it inevitably fails due to appeals to modernity/coloniality, only show that the activists taking issues rely on the same sort of strategies that kept people under the thumb of colonialism to begin with. We see attempts to oppose tribal sovereignty and group autonomy through legal means, which is of course how attacks on sovereignty and autonomy have always been enacted.
A question becomes who are these campaigns attempting to reach? An attempt to reach the people at the focus of the campaigns is doomed to failure from a reliance on oppressive structures. In a radio debate (if one could go as far to call it that) Steve Smit from Animal Rights Africa explains why the ARA is oppossed to an aspect of the Ukweshwama celebration of the Zulu, what is telling (besides the polarizing aspects of such campaigns) is the way that Smit explains why the Ukweshwama is the focus of such a campaign explaining that it is the most urgent issue that ARA could deal with it (at the time it was happening in a few weeks).
Why was it the most urgent? When radio callers brought up issues ranging from livestock slaughter, dolphins in aquariums, and circus elephants Smit continued to press that the killing of a bull at the Ukweshwama was the most urgent. I fail to see why it was the number one most urgent animal in all of South Africa, but I can see why it is useful as a campaign for the sake of publicity or recruitment.
Most people outside of the Zulu have no cultural or ideological connection to the Ukweshwama celebration, most people outside of the Makah have no connection to Makah whaling traditions. It is easier to rally folks around a cause that doesn’t indict them. Various animal advocates may hope that opposing the Makah or the Zulu will result in folks questioning their own animal use, but that seems unlikely, simply because people have a mental disconnect between the practices of themselves and others.
I’m of the belief that animal advocates must, in some instances, use conversation as a primary tactic. Not the sort of dialogue that is backed by harassment and state power. Nor conversations that rely on ideas of coloniality. Rather a conversation between equals with a mutual respect for autonomy, anything else results in defensiveness on both sides, and use of oppressive power structures by some. The tactics used against major corporations can not be used for everything.