There are no animals that choose a diet for ethical or moral reasons. That is, there are no wild animals that chose a diet for ethical or moral reasons.
That’s not to say that other animals are savage, self-gratifying and blood thirsty beasts: you’ll have a hard time finding anything like that in the non-spectacularized wild. On the contrary, ethics are as unthinkable as they are useless in the wild. The reason is simple: you don’t shit in the bed you sleep in. You can apply that ecologically, psychologically, scientifically, and, as I want to emphasize, spiritually, but, again, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of those distinctions among wildness either. What you do find is a cyclical and flowing wholeness: not in some spoken or otherwise mediated sense, but in the lived sense.
This can get a little tough here. Wildness is a hard concept for us to comprehend and even harder for us to embody. Everything about wildness runs against the way we live and think as domesticated beings. That is, as civilized beings. Domestication, the process of taming wildness to the domesticity of village, city, and country life, is what makes civilization possible. That is as true for the first gatherer/hunter societies who settled into villages as it is for the first domesticators of cultivated wild grains and herder of animals as it is for each and every one of us.
Like all living beings: we are born wild. Even more to the point, we are born into wildness. In wildness, all things are connected in a figurative and literal sense. Here decay fertilizes, birth is inseparable from death, there are no boundaries, and purpose is lived through the moment. There is no Future and there is no need for distant or looming gods. This is the world that all beings are born to be a part of, humans included.
Our situation has changed, but not our reality. The reality of wildness is still there and it forever refuses to end. How we see the world around us has changed, though our minds and bodies have not. Sioux poet and resistor John Trudell put it best when he said that the being part of our spirit has been mined. That mining process, the domestication process itself, flips the world entirely upside down: wildness is circular and flowing, the domesticated world is linear, planned, and ordered, wildness encourages self-discovery and the domesticators have created criteria and meticulously crafted programs of required learning. Most importantly, wild beings are an integral part of wildness while domesticated beings are slashed down to an isolated core which will only ever be a fragment of the Megamachine.
This is the basis for both our physical and mental reality: a fragmented, hierarchical and highly categorized world. Domestication splits the self from the Other and turns life into a battle for survival. It’s no large mystery why TV shows about wild animals focus on the predator and the prey, fight for mates and reproduction. Our own reality of consumption, mating, spawning and dying is naturalized.
I want to emphasize that domestication is a process and not an event. Wildness can simply never be fully tamed. Our need for something, for the comfort of community and that lived purpose, must be constantly diverted or filled with more meaningless garbage to keep us from realizing it. The domesticators need flashy technology, credit card debt, sedatives, and pop psychology to keep us from looking at what is really missing in our own lives. We need distractions because that lurking emptiness will only ever end when the wildness begins to flow back in. When we return to the world we were born into.
Rewilding, the process of undomestication, is no easy thing. There are, of course, the physical barriers, but it is the mental barriers that may be the hardest to overcome. Our isolated nothingness is a far cry from the world of wildness that we are trained to fear. Getting there never will be easy. But we all start somewhere. But I’m stepping ahead of myself a bit here.
Like every other domesticated being, I have always been reaching. Out of sheer desperation, I’ve grasped onto anything that felt like it might bring that needed fulfillment, like it might be the antidote to that lurking emptiness. In hindsight I see these as partial steps, though often necessary. What they lacked in a spiritual fulfillment they made up for in action. The one that I’m concerned with here is veganism.
For me, veganism has turned out to be one of many steps I’ve taken and without regret. But my concern, which isn’t unique to veganism at all, is about how those half-steps can so easily become the full picture. While full of good intentions and often positive action, they aren’t a challenge to the entire ‘unjust’ system which produces them: civilization. Instead they become a rigid morality that not only doesn’t challenge that domesticated worldview, but completely flows from it and reinforces it. I’m referring to veganism here as a bit of a catch all for animal rights ideology and the animal liberation movement at large. I want to emphasize that my problem is not with people who eat a vegan diet or all vegan individuals, but with the ideology that is more ultra-domestication than it is anti-domestication.
Knowing the kinds of reactions I’m likely to get for this, let me repeat this point: this is about vegan and animal rights ideologies, morality, and so on. Not all people who eat a vegan diet fall under this category, but either way, I’m interested with ideas and not every single individual!
I’m concerned with veganism as one of many impediments to wildness and as one of many fronts for civilization. What I’m concerned with, ultimately, is veganism as a force for domestication that open cages but never breaks the bond with the reality that it seeks to oppose.
HAVING YOUR PRINCIPLE AND EATING IT TOO
There are fine points that separate ideology and morality, but in effect they are pretty indistinguishable. Both of them offer a complete worldview that a person may take part in or they must abide by respectively. An ideologue may have a long and elaborate set of defenses for what has happened, what must happen and how you must act while a moralist will just tell you what is right and wrong. You can have one or both or any combination, but a prescribed (that is taught not experienced) worldview needs something to serve as a basis for justification.
Like any domesticating worldview, veganism can be either ideological or moral. What is important is that either way, there is an unshakeable foundation for all ensuing belief, action and judgment. There is a right and a wrong way which will almost always be applied. It is universal. I want to emphasize this last point because the idea of something being applicable always and forever and under any circumstance may be the cornerstone of civilization, and most definitely our global civilization. It is the peak of an ordered worldview. It is anti-adaptive in nature and runs against the flow that keeps wildness wild.
What we’re interested in here is that both ideology and morality make it possible to say something like "the killing of and/or consumption of animals is always wrong." No matter what, this must be seen as an unshakeable principle. There’s a lot of ways that you can get there, but in the end this unshakeable principle becomes a blinder. Put simply: it puts limits on your action and your thinking.
In the end, this principle is the final word. What it lacks in common sense, can be backed up by stubbornness and a little bit of tricky wording.
How so? You might be asking. Let’s take a look.
A vegan is a person who does not consume or use any animal product or by-product. They do so ostensibly because they are convinced that the killing of and/or consumption of animals is unethical or immoral or just plain wrong. That’s easy enough to understand right? Well understanding isn’t the problem, application is. Veganism is a lifestyle issue, a set of choices based on the aforementioned principle about what someone will buy, eat, use, dumpster, steal, or whatever. Its appeal is that it is a daily kind of protest or righteousness (depending on where your principle is rooted) against a system that enslaves and slaughters millions of animals daily for food, entertainment, clothing and the like. Not many people really want to take part in an omnicidal system, so this is an alternative based on things you would do anyway, like shop…
Veganism is applicable in the here and now. Even better, we are told it is a statement. That statement can be amplified by buying products that are ‘cruelty free’ or with the vegan symbol of approval. Here’s where things get tricky. We buy these things because they contain no animal products or by-products and are not animal tested. Here’s the kicker: at least, not directly contributing to the death and enslavement of animals. So here’s the one big problem: you consume because you live in civilization which requires the mass production of everything. So by taking part in the system of consumption, you are still involved in the system of production and distribution, which means that soy beans and wheat are grown in fields that were once forests where wild animals once lived and are either fertilized by animal shit from mass produced and enslaved animals or chemicals that kill just about everything which is transported through roads made of uprooted, crushed and processed stone and rock transported by vehicles of synthetic and horribly toxic plastics along with "natural resources" that are processed to leave out even more toxins to help in the construction and movement of these vehicles which are taken on roads and highways which cut through wild lands and crush wild animals while they try to live our their lives as trucks go to stores, again being concrete and steel over once wild areas, where they are bought with money you get from taking part in the economy which is the core of the one and only omnicidal system to exist on the earth. Not quite so simple, but here’s my point: if you live off of an omnicidal system, then you are a part of it.
That is a point that I can recognize. I can accept it as our reality, but not as the reality that must be. I know that no consumption will address that problem and that whatever choices I make at the market are not going to stop that system. At the same time, it doesn’t mean what I do doesn’t matter, but it means that change has to come from somewhere else. I can accept that trying to destroy civilization requires what would be considered hypocrisy. But that’s because I have no morality or ideology or platform for how things must be and how I must act.
Veganism, being rooted in personal choices, isn’t so fortunate. So what does the moralist or ideologue do when pushed in a corner? Since their principle is closed and universal, they can either further simplify the application of their principles to the beloved isolated individual of our civilization or they can just get angry or a bit of both as things so often go.
The first choice is where we get "directly" from. The world is simply too big, you just have to do what you can while things work themselves out or the master plan while a peaceful vegan world is under way. Here you’ll get to hear things like: "the world is a messed up place, but at least I didn’t put the bolt gun to the cows head." Or, "at least I didn’t pay the person directly for doing it." Inevitably taking no account for the distribution and transportation of the killed animals is beyond the scope of ethics or morality.
The second choice is a blinder in effect. Granted we all get angry, and for perfectly good reasons, but because there are flaws in your ideology and morality are pretty weak ones. But it does happen to the best of us doesn’t it?
So this is how a blinder works and we’ll definitely be running back into this again. So let’s look at how it is rooted and then to how it works out and ultimately what it overlooks.
BLINDED BY THE HYPE
The vegan principle that killing animals directly is always wrong is typically based on a number of different perspectives. I’d say that the main three would be that it is just wrong to kill animals (this includes the topic of sentiency which deserves its own section), that meat is unnecessary for humans (which also includes health issues), and that the industry is inhumane. Like most vegans, I incorporated a bit of all three.
The idea that meat/animal products are unnecessary for humans is just plain wrong. That is, it isn’t true for wild humans. It is possible to be a relatively healthy vegan in modern society, just as it is possible to get tomatoes all year round and tofu can be found in far more places than soy would ever be found. You can take artificial supplements, though this often leads to an imbalance of other nutrients. It is possible to do all of these things, but this comes back to that system and the artificial life that it requires and maintains.
But there are mounds of ‘evidence’ to the contrary. At least on the surface there is. There are science reports about the health problems associated with eating meat, but they look at the heavily processed food that is no healthier than the heavily processed vegan foods. That slips past the blinders and couples with the arguments against factory farming which builds complete but sloppy arguments. The evidence that a vegan diet is healthier than a non-vegan one comes from the same science that has argued for and against just about everything relating to meat consumption, disease, and the worth of animal lives. Scientists have confirmed just about any ludicrous idea from genetics to the health benefits of smoking to the benefits of civilized life, I just wonder why we would believe them at all.
The truth is much more common sense than anything: we’re omnivorous animals that are meant to be wild. Vegans don’t need morality to disagree with this, but the mounds of evidence probably wouldn’t have existed without the morality that made such denial possible. That morality spreads from the Hindu believe in ahimsa.
Hindus are agriculturalists living in a land that requires a lot of work to farm. What they do get from farming may fill the stomach, but it doesn’t give everything that someone needs to stay healthy. Here, like among all pastoralists, animals such as cows are vital for a number of reasons. Harnessed to plows, they ease the workload in tilling the fields and their dung is a great source of fuel. The fact that they give dairy products that are comparable in nutrients to meat has meant they’re worth a lot more alive than dead. The problem is that while this may make sense, it doesn’t keep the starving poor from killing and eating them. Throughout the history of civilization, law never worked so well as when it was coming straight from the divine. Hence we get ahimsa, the belief that it is morally wrong to kill animals.
It doesn’t take long for the religious and philosophical side of any practice to take off on its own. You can be relatively healthy eating dairy, but the utility can fade to the divine purity that arises. Veganism may be the natural morphed end product of ahimsa. Over hundreds of years, it has taken off on its own and though ahimsa tends to be upheld by non-Hindu vegans, you don’t need to hear the name or be a Hindu to take part in its aftermath. But Hindu vegans in India were also healthier than their ideological descendants in the West. Still eating predominantly local foods from smaller scale farms, there was not the mediated need to have a final clean product. Their vegan foods carried the nutrients of insects and animal dung serving as fertilizer making them healthier in the end, but not vegan in the purified Western sense.
Whether or not the connection is direct, this is the hype that made the later scientific evidence thinkable and then available. What ensued was an entirely different version of human history that became the ideological backing for Western vegans. The basic belief is that humans don’t need to eat meat. This is approached a number of ways.
The first way this works is to revise biology. One highlight that is thrown around the most is that carnivores have much longer intestines than herbivores. Since our intestines are closer to herbivores on this, we aren’t meant to eat meat. The obvious counterpoint is that we do eat meat and we do digest it. In fact we’ve been doing this for quite a long time. The evidence that we don’t is that the average meat eater may have up to ten pounds of undigested meat in their stomachs by the time they die.
So who is being cut apart here? Other civilized people. The problem isn’t that we can’t digest meat, but that processed and domesticated foods simply are not healthy and/or digestible. That applies to meat as much as it does soy, wheat, and most vegetables and fruits. But meat is arguably the worst. Animals are pumped full of chemicals, extra fatty from a sedentary life, the meat is preserved, overcooked, overeaten, and they eat the same nasty grain that we do. That adds up to a pretty nasty end product. Combined with a diet and lifestyle that doesn’t get the proper exercise or develop right from birth, it’s not really any surprise that we can’t digest it or that heart disease is one of the major killers in the West.
If this were a major issue, it wouldn’t make sense for us to have eaten meat for millions of years. People like the Arctic hunter/gatherers would probably have the worst health. They do have some of the highest concentrations of diabetes among other numerous diet related diseases, but that is only after they were forced to settle by the government and only having a diet of canned vegetables and processed grains with the occasional supplement of wild meat. When their diet was an average of 80-90% meat, they were far healthier than any farmer could ever have been.
Vegans will argue otherwise. The argument goes that we’ve come up from a form of savagery and through civilization we’re attaining a higher and more moral and ethical reality than throughout all of human history. We’re reaching the peak of morality and humanity and it is part of the synthetic superior world that we are creating. Groups like PETA really have no problem embodying this ridiculous notion. But you can hardly give them credit for it; I think the engineers of Progress came up with this as a justification for imperialism, colonization and genocide. The central message is as old as domestication: nature needs improvement. I hope I don’t have to draw out the obvious problems with this further.
Other biological points refer to our body. We don’t have the same teeth as most carnivores that much is true, but we also have hands with opposable thumbs that can do the same job as teeth to tear. We lack talons, beaks, and claws, but like many animals, we are tool users. Many vegans will argue that tools for hunting are relatively new and that much may be true: but it represents our own allegiance to a science that is ever changing and our own inability to look at the obvious: there are more ways to get meat than bows and atlatls. Things like rabbit sticks, nets, crude clubs and traps are all far easier to make and use and the chance of them showing up in the archeological record is remote. But they are only likely to show up if the archeologists were looking for them, but so long as we associate stone tools with hunting, that’s not likely to happen. But even if we weren’t hunting, we’re still rather adaptive: we can scavenge. Whatever way you cut it, we’ve been eating meat successfully for some time.
On the whole, biological comparisons rarely hold up. Often there is a chart of strict carnivores and herbivores with human running down the middle. The problem is that we’re neither of them. You are as likely to see us grazing and chewing cud as you are going to hunt like a jaguar. So what is that middle column? Omnivore. This should be fairly obvious. We are fully capable of eating fruits and vegetables and we have attributes of other hunters such as forward-looking vision and a natural tendency to run straight rather than from side to side like most typical "prey."
The biological trend leads to a look at the rest of the primate family. Like most primates, we do hunt. Vegans simply look beyond this and attribute it to a habit of primates in captivity. That’s something that most who have observed primates in the wild have noted. Even if we were to push that aside, we can’t ignore something even more significant: the primate subgroup that all modern primates (including humans) are said to evolve from were insectivores. That’s something that has never left us and can be seen in our wild counterparts as much as among other primates. Beetles, grubs and grasshoppers are all high in protein and, though I can’t personally back this up at the moment, supposedly delicious.
Coming closer to the biological arguments are revisions of our entire history. More recent vegan "naturalists," especially the raw food enthusiasts, claim that not only were we originally strict vegans, but that fire was our downfall. True enough, fire did change things to a certain degree. We’ve been able to move into colder climates and in some areas without it we might not have survived the ice age. It has made foods that would otherwise be inedible open to us. This is all true, but we can’t forget that the domestication of fire was a spotty thing and not nearly as significant as Greek myths would likely have us believe. One thing is certainly true though, it didn’t take fire to make meat edible or hunting possible.
Raw food purists like San Diego’s Nature’s First Law group have taken things to such an extreme. Not only are we pure vegans, but eating cooked food is the cause of war and social injustice, eating bread is the ‘cause’ of homosexuality and sexual deviance, and, best yet, eating cooked food causes balding and a shrunken penis! While certainly a bit of an extreme end of a fringe, the new raw purists have taken the entire Progress/evolutionary view to a major extreme: fire enabled us to leave the tropical areas where we supposedly evolved and lived. The idea is as ridiculous as it is frightening in whatever the practical application would be: either a flooding of humans into the tropical regions or a misanthropic purge of fire-using, cooked-food eating heathens.
Unfortunately the idea is spreading a bit. How it does is a bit of a morbid curiosity for me. People do live in the tropics, but they are far from vegan. While they, like most people on the planet, don’t eat nearly as much meat as the artic nomads, they are no where near being vegan. The Mbuti, nomadic gatherer hunters in the rain forests of the Congo only learned how to make fire relatively recently, but it hasn’t increased or decreased the amount of meat they eat. And all coastal societies in the tropics eat far more fish than anything.
Living in the tropics does have its benefits from having largely ideal weather to having a year round growing season with a larger assortment of fruits and vegetables, but there is no excess amount of wild sources of vegan protein among other things. Wild veganism is possible, but I would hardly say preferable. In the end it only carries on that evolutionary ideal of some kind of purity and I’m doubting the bountiful tropical fruits and vegetables will be as grateful as the vegans would like them to be for being eaten instead of ‘sentient’ beings.
Along the lines of historical revision is the idea that vegetarianism has happened in large populations. That much is true, but rarely is it by choice. The diet of peasants is typically lacking in meat and is dependent upon grains, rice, or corn. It is also the lifestyle inflicted by a larger exploitative system, and the same one that puts them in a position where meat is rarely an option. The result is a typically vegan diet, but with it comes the problems of an imposed and improper diet: physical deformity, increased retardation and diseases, increased miscarriages, diseases like rickets from lack of calcium, and bones that never develop fully. That applies to the peasants of indigenous civilizations in Latin America, throughout Europe and Asia. The Hindus are an exception, though they weren’t vegan as we’ve already seen.
For the vegan, it doesn’t matter if a number of these points are true or not, what matters is that there are a number of different approaches available. If one doesn’t work, then try another, and sooner or later you’ll win the argument. That is morality and ideology at work. That is those blinders put into work. But it is powerful, that is how it works. I’m no exception to this, my own blinders kept me from noticing all the physical consequences of seven years of veganism from anemia to a weakened immune system and weaker stomach to a severe lack in all around energy and a worsening of what was originally a mild case of hypoglycemia.
That is ideology at work.
SENTIENCY AND OTHER STUPID IDEAS
Arguments for animal rights and many of the arguments for veganism revolve around the issue of sentiency. The arguments goes that if an animal is capable of feeling and perceiving then they, like us, are sentient and worthy of the same respect. Likewise, they shouldn’t be eaten or enslaved. Honestly, I think this is one of the most dangerous ideas. Not because I think we have some natural domination or there is something innately different between all beings, but because of its context.
The basis for deciding what is and isn’t sentient is based upon the only thing we really know: ourselves. What is capable of feeling and perceiving is based on what we know about feeling and perceiving. Most notably this is a central nervous system like ours or observable reactions. So animals like cows, goats, sheep, horses, members of the canine, feline and primate families fit the bill. Things get a bit tougher and more scientific when it comes to fish and insects. Insects, of course, are very typically given the slight of hand when it comes to animal rights.
So what is the prize? We want them to have the same rights that humans are expected to have. The problem with rights is that they take government as a standard and, in the good liberal tradition, seek to improve it. That is a historical problem, and one that the animal rights advocates typically uphold without seeing the obvious irony.
In the West, white males were the standard for rights, then white women, then non-white men, then non-white women, and so on. Rights have always been both a system of exclusion and a systematic means of exploitation and inequality. The government guarantees you this much, that is what rights offer, and even in the rare cases where governments are holding up their end of the deal, it is still in their hands. All governments exploit, all civilizations exploit, that is how they exist, that is what they must do to exist. What rights do is try to raise the bar of exploitation to an acceptable standard. I’m not sure that was ever a good idea and even less of something worth fighting for.
If we assume that rights are a good thing (a major stretch of the imagination), we still have to account for the reality that getting animal rights is a long and drawn out road. What might the steps be? Better conditions in factory farms, quicker and more efficient means of killing, more pasture land? Those are the obvious first steps in what would be a long battle and a far call from what any animal really wants: to be wild and free.
So who is speaking for whom and why are they speaking at all? What does a self-righteous ultra-domesticated human know about what a cow might want? If our void is full and we carry the weight of trying to fix civilization even though 10,000 years have shown that domestication has no real benefit, what can we do for the animals without eliminating the system that put them in cages in the first place? What you get is an ideological battle ground for a morally superior identity and a call for action that in effect does little or nothing to actually improve the lot of "sentient" life.
That’s not even the most dangerous part about the idea of sentiency though. It may be the dumbest, but the worst is the implications of dealing with a system of exclusion: when a new standard is set, old standards are given new strength. When you declare that some animals are sentient and others are not, you’re not coming closer to the idea that all life (animal or not) is sacred or worthy of respect, you’re just adding more to one side. Giving new rights to certain animals reinforces the idea that animal life is different and more worthy than plant life or the entirety of an ecosystem. If it takes a long battle to show that certain life is more worthy of our respect, it’s going to be even more to argue that all life is worthy of that same respect.
Simply put, when you play on the terms of the domesticators, you are going to lose. The reality of wildness runs completely contrary and is totally incapable of coexisting with civilization and even more so with modernized technological civilization.
The presumption of the animal rights movement is that a better world can come through civilization and that we can play on their terms. Even more ridiculously, there is the assumption that the animals and earth might benefit from this. The real solution is all the more obvious: only wildness benefits wild beings, and that will only come through the destruction of civilization.
MAD COWBOYS AND EVEN MADDER COWBOYS
The only time that vegan ideology tends to have a deeper critique is of the modern food industry. But that only goes so far. The conditions of factory farms and slaughterhouses, like the meat markets and fast food restaurants, are appalling. All of the above are rather grotesque monuments to efficiency and production that really typify where our globalized civilization is now. We produce a lot of crap and disrupt and destroy natural communities to maintain this way of living.
This may be one of the greater areas for outreach among vegans. Not many people know where their meat, dairy and other animal products come from or the conditions that the animals live under, which are truly horrid. Domestication is bad enough, but the rows of crowded cages are based on the same assembly lines used to make any other mass product. Keeping animals locked up, away from light and unable to stand, spread their wings, or stretch should be opposed.
The same can be said about animals kept for testing medications for diseases related to civilized living and for totally frivolous crap like make up and perfumes. No animal should ever be caged and tortured like that. The Animal Liberation Front is both necessary and commendable. But this tends to be where the messages are mixed. On the one hand you have the call for complete liberation, but on the other hand you have an attempt to modify the system of exploitation as we’ve seen.
Animal liberation can never be a part of civilization. And so long as it is based on vegan dogma and animal rights thinking, it will never be complete. We come back to domestication and the failure to really move beyond it.
A part of the vegan lifestyle is the promotion of "animal friendly" and "cruelty free" businesses. What that means is that the idea of animal liberation tends to go hand in hand with the promotion of businesses, even though the producers and distributors of vegan foods are often some of the worst animal exploiters around. That goes for huge dairy corporations buying out soy milk companies, cigarette companies buying out organic food companies, and large businesses behind the bulk of the meat industry owning meat free burger companies. Mainstream groups like PETA and animal rights gurus like Eric Marcus have actually gone out of their way to hold rallies in support of Burger King in support of their veggie burger, which isn’t even vegan.
What is the message here? What is the goal? Is it liberation, or is it another business venture like any other?
These might be the extreme examples, but perhaps they’re also the most honest. The world envisioned by vegans where animals are liberated and everyone is vegan is a pipe dream, and a bad one at that. It simply is not possible. And I think most animals would agree, it is not at all preferable.
It is in this pipe dream that animal rights folks put out their environmental image and try to show why anyone concerned with the fate of the earth should be vegan. It is also here that the criticism of the modern food industry comes forward, albeit briefly. A huge target here is the mass production of cattle. Cows, being fed a strict diet of little to nothing that their counterparts would eat, become one of the larger sources of pollution because of their indigestion. Huge areas of forest are cleared throughout the world to grow grains and corn for their consumption and more often than not, this is a magnet for bioengineered crops.
It takes twelve pounds of grain to "produce" one pound of beef. Simply put, a bare minimum of twelve times more domestication goes into animals over crops. Animals like coyotes and wolves know where that extra domestication comes from: land that was once wild. They’ve been waging their own war on the domesticating menace by taking out herds of cattle, sheep and other herding animals taking over where they once lived, rarely is any of the meat actually eaten. That is a war against civilization in the literal sense. The ethical question should be coming a bit clearer, at least in terms of supporting domestication.
Animal rights arguments draw these points out to offer an alternative: in a vegan world, animals would not be reared for food, so all of this waste would not exist. But there’s a problem here. On the one hand is an extremely valid problem: domesticated animals are eating the world. But on the other hand is that ahimsa based principle that all life is sacred. So should the animal industry end, where would these animals go? Probably the same place vegans are putting them now: sanctuaries.
Now these sanctuaries are supposed to be a safe haven, a place where animals can go to live out the rest of their lives safely and securely. They are supposed to be freed. I worked at one of these sanctuaries and can honestly say that there is little to nothing that has improved about their lives, with only a few exceptions. In reality they are moved from one fenced in area to another, being given more room only when those animals come from a factory farm or extreme abuse case. They are fed the same food that they would be getting in a factory farm, producing the same methane, and their lives are still dictated by human desires. Except this time around, those humans are bringing them into more of a petting zoo for the vegan ego than a place where they are given proper respect.
Instead they serve as a living monument to lifestyle choices. Where they do roam, they do no less damage than any other farm. I’ve seen this happen. Even a small herd of cattle can complete destroy streams, contaminate soil and just generally wreck an area very quickly. The only difference is that they tend to get a wider area to destroy and since they’re not being killed, more time to do it in. And I don’t think I’m overstepping my boundaries to say they’re not much happier. They spend just as much time trying to get out and not be enclosed as they can.
What we are seeing is the domesticator mindset in action. This is the downfall of rights and do gooder movements: they are self gratifying rather than proactive. The question of domestication is never raised, at least not with any seriousness. A significant part of that is a refusal to question the basic lessons of the domesticators; the vision of a glorious and ethically bound Future, the end product of millions of years of slow progression and building upon humanity.
And wildness falls behind again. The slaughterhouse becomes the symbol of exploitation and the point is missed, but the civilized may never see it fully. The central issue is a fear of death. The vegans carry the message that it is better to live a long life encaged than a short one that ends in systematized murder. That is the burden of civilization: that we would rather prolong life than live it.
No doubt, the slaughterhouse is never a great thing, but it is feared because it represents death. It is the farm that is the problem. It is the farm that has always been the problem. It enslaves humans to a life of work building wealth for others just as the work animals of the Hindu spend their lives building the world that the Hindu chose to live in. That is the world of domestication: that is the problem.
But this cannot be questioned. The vegan world requires domestication. It may well be the peak of domesticated society. Staples of the vegan diet like rice, beans, soy, and grains require plots and rows of crops. They are all the most intensive and detrimental crops to the earth. The plowed fields and necessary transportation systems tear up the earth and as the soil washes away the only options for continued farming are chemical fertilizers or, once again, using animal dung. Delusions of a global organic and vegan horticulture are simply unattainable with this population as they are unlikely. A vegan world is still a globalized technological, industrial civilization: little different than ours now.
All the while, the "liberated" animals living in sanctuaries become all the more like us: captives to a distant Future, enclosed, fed and bred for a world that can never replace the innate being of wildness.
We feel its loss while the hand of the domesticator shoves it further away and leaves a gaping void in its wake.
OPENING THE CAGES: THEIRS AND OURS
I opened this essay with a statement that no other animal chooses their diet, especially for ethical and moral reasons. Perhaps that statement is a bit unfair because no other animal has created factory farms or civilization and enslaved the mass of life on this earth either. But my point is not that nothing matters or that we would all be better off buying meat and dairy as we would buying vegan foods. My point is that while veganism is an understandable response to the world now and remains a possible step towards rewilding, vegan ideology and morality are all too often taken as the goal in themselves. In the end, vegans take domestication to another step and continue to carry the mantle of civilization.
For many vegans, like those involved with PETA and similar groups, that may not be a problem. The association of meat eating as savagery is a part of their civilizing mission. The drunken, gossipy inner circle of vegan and sanctuary elites can sit back and soak up the empire that they’ve built for themselves in highly paid positions. They can push for their dogma to be spread by supermodels and celebrities, because that is part of the flashy, spectacularized world that they don’t want to break from.
Being anti-wildness is no mystery: domesticated animals are given emphasis over wild ones. I can imagine that Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA, had no real ethical dilemma when she pushed for a PETA policy of gassing feral cats. The idea that there “aren’t enough homes for them all” says plainly that they need homes, they need humans. For her domestication is the goal. I say better dead than domesticated. What kind of life is it that we are living that is so worth maintaining? What world are these enslaved animals being “released” into?
To the point: what does animal liberation really mean? Does it mean freedom from being killed by humans, stuck in new farms where they are protected against wild predators and fed the same crap they were getting in the industry farms? Does it mean the continuation of mass, global agriculture to feed the world a new moral diet? All of these things are what we can see in happening in practice. And I have a really hard time trying to understand how insane you have to be to really call this liberation.
All animals need one thing: wildness. We are no exception. That flow of life, that questionless existence, that feeling of an entirely interconnected community is what we are all born for. It is the world that our bodies work with. But those changes call for more than a diet change.
Rewilding, as I see it, means a total life of resistance and reconnection. It means breaking down that self/Other barrier that domestication builds and maintains. It means we need to stop seeing ourselves as outside of the community of life and to stop seeing things like non-animal foods as any less worthy than animals. We need to break the grasp of sentiency and other ideas that put humans and our closer relatives on a pedestal over wildness.
A part of this process is recognizing that we are hunters and gatherers. That doesn’t mean that animals we may hunt became our natural enemies or that we have any different connection with them. That’s not entirely correct: that relationship will change. It would no longer be a domineering sort of stewardship like veganism pushes, but a relationship among equals: the only relationship that should ever happen. That is a relationship that is forever deepened when you begin to read the tracks of animals around you, when you spend hours and days watching how animals interact and begin to see life as they would live it. It is about breaking mediation and breaking down the alienating technology that reinforces our domesticating relationship.
Rewilding is a great process of checking our domesticating behavior and thinking. In the process we are free to find our own animality, to seek out our own wildness. It means becoming self sufficient and no longer taking part in a system that exploits globally and locally by its nature. In that self sufficiency we are free to develop relationships with others that are not about using each other.
So what does this mean in terms of day-to-day life? I’m not interested in outlining some program or creating a new ideology or morality for how we must be. I don’t really care what personal decisions people make, because that is not my main problem. I can deal with people on a one to one basis as things go, but my target is civilization. Liberation will only come through its destruction and an end to the domestication process.
In practice that means opening cages and crippling the system of enslavement the only way that seems to work: bolt cutters and incendiaries. What the ALF and ELF have been doing for decades has been fighting on the forefront of domestication and trying to keep wildness wild. It means targeting the system at its central points. It means getting a deeper understanding of how civilization works so that we can target it more effectively. It means taking our lives into our own hands and not being afraid to act on it.
As far as diets go, the most I can recommend is to be aware of the foods that you would be eating without domestication: wild foods such as nuts, berries, plants, mushrooms, perhaps the occasional egg, and, yes, fish and meat. The ideal diet is the one that we’ve grown to: one that is foraged, scavenged and hunted. For me, that hunting means hunting in the ancient sense: simple tools and all the relationships that come with it. Not the mediated macho hunting crap.
Eating this way doesn’t necessarily throw out any kind of ethical consideration for the consequences of our actions. I won’t buy any animal product, but I’m also very weary of buying things like soy. But this isn’t based on ideological or moral grounds: more practical than anything. I have no more desire to eat domesticated animals than I do to domesticate them myself. One of the most obvious short term solutions is to eat road kill, an idea that becoming far more acceptable than the most ideological of vegans care to acknowledge. From road kill you can get skins for clothing, bones for tools, muscles and organs for meat, and knowing that this animal’s death is not entirely in vain.
These deaths are the inescapable consequence of a system that can produce such massive and impersonal technology: complete with disconnected users. An ancient hunting rite is the promise to the animal that is killed to ensure that it will never be domesticated or taken without reason. That is a promise to look over its future generations and ensuring that they will grow up and live in the same wildness that all life should live in. It is a unifying tie and assurance that all things wild should be wild.
This is what we’ve lost through domestication. In taking road kill or any animal, I feel a promise to do everything I can to come back to that original relationship: a promise to destroy the civilization that binds both of us to a live of captivity and exile in our own homes.
That is a step back into our own wildness, into complete liberation. And that is a step that vegan and animal rights ideology remain a barrier to.
Originally published in: Species Traitor 4, 2005, by Kevin Tucker