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‘Animal Crisis’: Why self-centered human supremacism fails

Attitudes about human and non-human others are distorted by ideologies that don’t capture the value of the lives and relationships of humans and animals. These distortions permeate standard views in animal ethics.

MARC BEKOFF: A new book by eminent philosophers Drs. Alice Crary and Lori Gruen called Animal Crisis: A New Critical Theory that offers a new ethic that makes the case that there can be no animal liberation without human emancipation and that human supremacism is absolutely misguided. To wit, systems of thought and action that are failing animals ultimately fail humans. Many people refer to the Anthropocene as the “age of humanity” when, in fact, it’s the “rage of inhumanity” against numerous humans and nonhumans…

Alice and Lori answer… questions about their novel approach to how we can radically reimagine our relationships with other animals that also will benefit humans. I can see how it easily links to the One Health initiative, the goal of which is to increase the well-being of all animals, human and nonhuman alike…

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Animal Crisis?

Alice Crary and Lori Gruen: In the spring of 2018, we started working together on a review essay about the field of animal ethics. It very quickly seemed to both of us that it would be more meaningful to write a short, urgent plea to radically rethink animal ethics — to radically rethink both the philosophical field and its realization within social protest movements. Anthropogenic activity has plunged the planet into crisis. Human devastation of animals and their habitats has existential implications not only for animals but for humans.

Attitudes about the world, and about human and non-human others, are distorted by ideologies that don’t capture the value of the lives and relationships of humans and animals. These distortions permeate standard views in animal ethics, just as they structure many philosophical discussions of social justice. We are convinced that the ideological obfuscations have to be exposed and contested if we are to arrive at interventions that are capable of promoting liberating political action…

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?

AC and LG: Animal Crisis proposes a new critical theory—a critical animal theory—designed to overcome the social and political isolation of traditional animal ethics. Only within the last decade have questions about the violence of larger social structures and the exercise of state power had much uptake within animal studies. These structures not only treat the bodies of animals as free resources to use, but also appropriate the reproductive, care, and sustenance labor of women and racialized people. We draw on insights from ecofeminism, the early Frankfurt School, and other critical theories in arguing that animal ethics should be pursued as a critical theory.

In developing this new approach, we work to bring structures of oppression more clearly into view. Throughout, we seek to make the lives, experiences, and relationships of other animals visible.

Too often in discussions in animal ethics and politics, animals are mere abstractions. In starting each chapter with a story, highlighting animals’ experiences, we are pushing back against this trend. We are capturing how those experiences matter and drawing connections between the plight of animals in particular contexts with the marginalization of humans in those same contexts.

One central case for us is industrial animal agriculture or “factory farming.” We also talk about the palm oil industry, in places like Borneo and Sumatra, how it devastates the lives of animals, and how it causes serious harm to human populations. We discuss the minds of octopuses and other animals, human beings’ complicated relationships with rats, as well as the trade in exotic animals. We think of these cases not as individual crises but as parts of one larger crisis.

We are combating ideologies that make it hard to see connections among individual instances of the mistreatment of animals and the subjugation of human beings and bringing out that the harms to humans and other animals we’re discussing aren’t accidental and one-off but structural and systemic. SOURCE…


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