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Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies

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1 Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Chapter 13: Human Oppression and Animal Suffering Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University Press, 2012

2 Interlinked Systems All animals are not treated the same. Depending on how one is classified, they may be raised to be slaughtered and eaten, they may be raised to be experimented upon, or they may be raised to be kept as a companion and given love and attention. Likewise, not all humans are treated, by other humans, the same. Great numbers of people suffer from poverty, disease, warfare and crime, and about half of all humans on the planet live on less than $2.50 per day. According to many scholars, these two situations—animal suffering and exploitation, and human suffering and exploitation—are linked. The same systems of oppression that keep humans from reaching their full potential, such as the class system, the caste system, racism, or slavery, also work to oppress animals. The reverse may also be true: the systems of animal exploitation found in, for example, the meat industry or the biomedical industry, can also be said to exploit some humans, while giving other humans profit.

3 The rise of Inequality With the domestication of animals, humans began to control the bodies and products of animals. Not coincidentally, the domestication of animals (and plants) also coincided with the rise of human oppression over other humans. The earliest civilizations arose thanks to the domestication of plants and animals, and all included vast differentials in wealth, and all depended heavily on slave labor. It may well be that the decision to use some humans as slaves derived from the use of animals as food and labor sources. Certainly, the ways that human slaves and animal property were both bought, sold, branded and confined were very similar.

4 The rise of Inequality Women, too, saw their status in society drop with the rise of state level civilizations. Women’s status in foraging cultures was relatively equal to men; only men’s control over hunting increased their status. But for the most part, women in such cultures contributed a great deal to the economy and held high status. But after the domestication of both plants and animals, women were relegated to domestic and reproductive labor, while men began to control the fruits of production—the crops and the animals both.

5 The rise of Inequality The ancient states, with their built-in systems of inequality, led to other forms of social stratification like the caste system in India. With the rise of colonialism in the fifteenth century, and the conquest of non-Western cultures by the European superpowers, a new system of inequality arose, based on race. In racialized cultures, the physical differences between human communities are thought to correlate with important psychological, intellectual, emotional and cultural differences, and those supposed differences are then used as the justification for segregating out the “inferior” groups and denying them access to resources and power.

6 Othering and Essentializing
Othering refers to the practice of making people—or animals—different in order to justify treating them differently. Racism, for example, depends on othering: by claiming that people are racially different—that there is something inherent, or essential, within us that makes us not only look different, but think, feel and act differently, and that these differences can be summed up by the term “race”—we can more easily subjugate them and exclude them from power. The further we can distance those that we don’t like or don’t want to share resources with, the more we can mistreat them. Animals, too, are “othered.”

7 Othering and Essentializing
The human-animal divide, developed after the domestication of animals, involves the construction of a metaphorical border which separated out all of the animal species from a single animal species—human—and gave that species power over all the others. The border has been based on qualities like language, rationality and the soul. Another aspect that links the treatment of animals with the treatment of some humans is essentializing: the treatment of individuals as if they were the same as others in their race/sex/species. Racist thought is by definition essentialist thought, and so is speciesist thought. All Chinese are the same; all pigs are the same.

8 Othering One critical way in which women, the poor, and racial minorities in particular have been othered historically is by using animal terms to refer to them. In 1790, British political philosopher Edmund Burke used the term “swinish multitude” to refer to the supporters of the French Revolution, whom he saw as ignorant, dangerous, and “swinish.” Burke, like other elites of his time, saw the poor as being poor because of their inherent, essential qualities. Only the upper classes shared these qualities, leaving the lower classes in a semi-human state, and deserving of ill-treatment. Dehumanization, and essentializing, necessarily precedes, because it serves to justify, oppression.

9 Othering The line between those deserving of good treatment, and those who don’t deserve it, is a fuzzy one, and must constantly shift to accommodate the desires of those in power. Just as not all humans deserve fair treatment—slaves, the poor, minorities, immigrants, untouchables, and gays —not all animals deserve poor treatment. Some animals are considered to be more worthy than others, either because of the pleasure that they give us, or the economic value that they possess. The danger lies in the line itself—as long as there exists in society a line separating out some from others, then is any group truly safe from being on the losing side of it?

10 Animal Farm A masterpiece of political satire, Animal Farm is a tale of oppressed individuals who long for freedom but ultimately are corrupted by assuming the very power that had originally oppressed them. The story traces the deplorable conditions of mistreated farm animals. After extreme negligence by their owner, the animals revolt and expel Mr. Jones and his wife from the farm. The tale of the society the animals form into a totalitarian regime is generally viewed as Orwell's critique of the communist system in the former Soviet Union. “Some animals are more equal than others.”

11 Animal Farm In explaining how he came to write Animal Farm, Orwell says he once saw a little boy whipping a horse and later he wrote, “It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the [worker].”

12 Sexism and Speciesism Feminists scholars have long discussed the ways in which women are defined by and even constrained by their bodies. Because women menstruate, give birth, and lactate, cultures have long treated women as fundamentally different from men, and have often created rituals and taboos associated with those female activities. Women’s bodies are often the site of political contestation and control, regarding everything from birth control to weight to beauty. Both women and animals have historically been considered less intelligent than men. Tactics like objectification, ridicule have been and continue to be used to control and exploit both women and animals. Women are called names like cow, sow, pig, dog, bitch, fox and hen; by symbolically associating them with animals, they are trivialized.

13 Sexism and Speciesism In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle wrote that because only men possess rationality, it was natural and necessary for men to rule women and animals (as well as slaves), both of whom lacked it. Women, slaves and animals, existed to serve the needs of man. In the 1970s, anthropologist Sherry Ortner, in attempting to explain why women are universally subordinated to men, created an explanation which argued that women are symbolically associated with nature, and men are associated with culture, and nature occupies a subordinate position to culture.

14 Sexism and Speciesism Animals, too, are constrained by their bodies, and are indeed defined by their reproductive abilities. For example, the hormone replacement drug Premarin is made from the urine of pregnant horses Other female animals are likewise exploited for their reproductive abilities. Dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated so that their bodies will produce milk; but instead of that milk being used to feed their own babies, the babies are removed (and male calves are sold to veal production facilities) and the mothers are milked to produce dairy for humans. Egg-laying hens are confined to tiny cages without enough room to spread their wings or lie down, are kept in the dark at all hours, and their beaks are burnt off to keep them from pecking the other birds to death. Because men have long had more power—political, social, economic, and physical—than both women and animals, they have been able to use that power to master both. For instance, in most pastoral societies, only men are able to own animals, and women are simply the property of fathers and husbands, just like cattle or sheep.

15 Sexism and Speciesism The consumption of meat is another example. Meat eating has long been associated with men and masculinity, and meat has been eaten by elites and others with power throughout history, while women, children and the poor have eaten what was thought to be second class food—breads, fruits and vegetables. Even today, vegetable eating—and especially salad eating—is considered to be weak food, or “rabbit food.”


17 Sexism and Speciesism Carol Adams shows how both animals and women are objectified, fragmented, and ultimately consumed. Animals are treated as objects, killed, dismembered, and consumed as meat, while women are objectified, and through pornography, dismembered into body parts (breasts, lips, butt, vagina), and then “consumed” through porn or through sexual violence. When women say that they “felt like a piece of meat,” they are referring to degrading and dehumanizing treatment that is reserved for both women and animals, but never men. In addition, many men who want to control their wives and girlfriends do so through not only using violence, and threats of violence, against them, but by committing violence against the women’s companion animals as well.





22 Racism and Animalization
Like women, non-whites have been compared to animals since at least the time of colonialism, and certainly since the African slave trade emerged in the seventeenth century. Europeans and Euro-Americans referred to both Native Americans and Africans as animals, and many people subscribed to the Christian idea of the Great Chain of Being. By the nineteenth century, with the rise of evolutionary thought, many people felt that while all humans may be related to apes, some humans were closer to apes than others, and Africans in particular were thought to be the “missing link” between apes and humans.

23 Scientists of the day were in agreement that apes and blacks were very similar.  In this picture, from a book by Robert Knox called The Races of Men (1851), the slant of the brow is used to draw connections between the “Negro” and the “Oran Outan” and differences between those two and the “European.”

24 In this image from a book called The Types of Mankind (1854), we see a depiction of the great chain of being with Apollo at the top (the most perfect human), a black person below, and an ape below him.

25 In 1868, Ernst Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte was published
In 1868, Ernst Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte was published.  In the book, this image appeared (his perfect person was German, not Greek):

26 This image appeared in the The Evolution of Man (1874 edition) as part of an argument that blacks are evolutionarily close to apes

27 Slavery and Animalization
African Americans were not just thought of as animals; they were treated like animals. Treating a human like an animal is a way to degrade and dehumanize them. African slaves were shackled and muzzled like animals, beaten like animals, branded like animals, bought and sold like animals, had their children taken from them like animals, and had their humanity and individuality ignored, just as humans do with animals. They were property just as animals were, and could be legally killed by their property owner, just as animals could. Whites justified their use of, and treatment of, slaves with a number of justifications. Blacks could not feel pain, they could not feel love towards their children, and they were happier under slavery than living on their own. In addition, slavery was an important part of the economy of the American south—how could plantation owners expect to do without it?



30 Racism and Animalization
In the years after slavery known as the Jim Crow period, blacks were still thought of as beastly, as unable to control their desires. Whites thought that blacks were more prone to violence and rape (especially rape of white women) than were whites, and lynchings of blacks were common. Blacks were sometimes displayed in zoos and in circus and carnival side shows alongside wild animals.

31 Racism and Animalization
Even in the twenty-first century, the association of blacks with monkeys and apes still has not disappeared. In the months leading up to the 2008 Presidential election in the United States, and in the years following the election of the first African American President, the internet has been rife with cartoons and images of Barack Obama (or Michelle Obama, the First Lady) represented as a monkey or ape.

32 Animalization and Jews
The German word for “race,” rasse, is also the word for a purebred animal, demonstrating not only the Nazis’ tendency to animalize people but also their concern with maintaining “blood purity” in both animals and people. Jews were called vermin, rats and cockroaches in Nazi speeches and in the German media.

33 The caricature suggests the Jews are sucking the economic life from Gentiles. It is one of numerous Stürmer cartoons comparing Jews to inhuman and unpleasant animals. (February 1930)

34 Where something is rotten, the Jew is the cause.
The names in the background are those of Jews involved in major financial scandals. The apple is named “the German economy.” The worm is named “Jewish scandals.” (November 1931, Stürmer )

35 Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher
(The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher) This children’s book is a story book, in which each story compares the Jews to animals like poisonous snakes, tapeworms, bedbugs, locusts, hyenas, mongrel dogs, and bacteria. This book is like other children’s books of the time which contain short stories telling them how to recognize a Jew, his criminal and mean nature and so on.

36 Jews are still animalized today, as in this image from Arab News, which shows Jewish rats sporting Stars of David and skullcaps, scurrying back and forth through holes in the wall of “Palestine House.” The cartoon may be inspired by a  scene from the Nazi film “Jew Suess,”   in which Jews are depicted as vermin to be eradicated by mass extermination.

37 Animalization and Jews
But as with slavery, the animalization of Jews went far beyond name calling. During the eugenics movement, the practice of animal breeding—breeding those with the desirable characteristics and killing and sterilizing the rest—became the inspiration and example for eugenic efforts to upgrade the human population in both countries. These efforts led to compulsory sterilization of the disabled in the United States and compulsory sterilization, euthanasia killings, and ultimately, genocide in Nazi Germany.

38 Animalization and Jews
From 1942 to 1945, European Jews were transported in cattle cars to death camps, some were tattooed with ID numbers like livestock, and were slaughtered en masse, with their humanity and individuality completely extinguished. The camps themselves were modelled on American stockyards and slaughterhouses. Nazis borrowed features intended to make the processing of Jews at the campus as speedy and efficient as possible, and to streamline the final part of the operation which took the victims to their deaths. Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, called that camp “the largest human slaughterhouse that history had ever known.”




42 “Eternal Treblinka” Many writers have noted the similarity of treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and Jews in the death camps. Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer famously wrote, “for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka,” while German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals.” Because of what appear to be obvious similarities between the treatment of humans by other humans in the context of institutions like slavery, and the treatment of animals in animal agriculture or biomedicine, animal rights activists and organizations have used these comparisons to draw public attention to the treatment of animals in contemporary society.




46 Is there anything wrong with making comparisons like this? Why?

47 What’s wrong with comparisons?
Jewish organizations have been especially horrified at the comparison between animal agriculture and the Holocaust. Jewish groups say that campaigns like this trivialize the horrific loss of human life by comparing humans to chickens or pigs. Roberta Kalechofsky, President of Jews for Animal Rights, has pointed out that Jews were killed during the Holocaust by people who hated them, while humans, even while killing animals, do not hate them. Most people hate these images because comparing animal suffering to human suffering reduces the impact of the human suffering.

48 Racism and animal advocacy
Because of the animal practices found in other cultures, some Western animal advocates come to the conclusion that those cultures are less “civilized” than Western cultures, who don’t practice animal sacrifice for example. As easy as it is to dehumanize groups of people by comparing them to animals, it is similarly easy to condemn ethnic groups and nationalities when working to save animals. By calling people who engage in cruel-seeming acts barbarians or savages, especially when ignoring similarly cruel activities in one’s own country, is not just hypocritical but verges on racism and cultural imperialism.

49 Capitalism and Exploitation
Many scholars suggest that both human and animal oppression have escalated with the rise of capitalism as an economic system. In capitalism, animals (resource) and humans (labor) are both exploited in order to produce profit. The poorest people must do the brutal work to ensure that the system continues—they work in the slaughterhouses, on the factory farms, and in the packing houses, where they too are treated “like animals.” Work here is dangerous and jobs are found in communities made up of the poor and often minorities. Meat packing plants even advertise in Mexico to attract the poorest and most vulnerable populations to work in their factories.

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