Many activists are saying that after the working class liberation, black liberation, women liberation and gay liberation this is animals’ time. Discrimination on the basis of species is the last form of discrimination to be fought against.
Thinking that this is animals’ time since other forms of discrimination were already successfully addressed is a mistake from at least three different aspects. The first is a factual one – all of the so called revolutions are still far from occurring. The second is conceptual – the belief that eventually the truth has got to win, requires falsely observing history as a purposeful force moving in a linear way from bad to good, from chaotic to ordered, from irrational to rational. And the third one is analogical – even if human social struggles were successful, we can’t infer from them about nonhumans’ struggle, because they are fundamentally different.
In the following post we’ll address the third aspect.
Many activists compare animals’ institutionalized exploitation with slavery. They use it as a rhetorical tool, trying to convince the public that just as discrimination based on skin color is arbitrary and wrong so is discrimination based on species, and they use it as an inspiration source arguing that just as enslavement based on skin color discrimination was ended, exploitation based on species discrimination can also end.
We find this inspiration utterly false for several reasons, which we broadly detailed in a series of posts about slavery. Here are the arguments in short.
First, we argued that neither the 13th Amendment nor the American Civil War were a product of a moral struggle.
The Civil War broke for many reasons, none of which had to do with a moral cause as the abolition of slavery. Wars don’t break for moral reasons. And they definitely don’t break between two sides over the rights of a third one. Wars generally break for money or power, and usually both. And so did the American civil war. The historical review of the political, economic and moral climate before and during the American civil war, in an attempt to present the real reasons behind it, is crucial for the slavery discussion, since many cling on to these kinds of myths, building around them their activistic philosophy, and since generally, it sheds light on human society and how things work in this world, and why.
Second, we argued that not only that the American civil war didn’t break to end slavery, it didn’t even really end it at all. Humans being humans, used an exception mentioned in the 13th Amendment which is ‘involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime’, as a loophole to keep slavery active and thriving by systematically criminalizing African Americans (we don’t mean the discriminative Jim Crow laws but the Black Codes, which was set as a legal basis for Neo-Slavery). In fact it took another century for slavery to really formally end in the United States alone.
And most importantly, regardless of the true reasons and causes for ending slavery, it never really ended. Not in the U.S and definitely not all over the world. In fact there are more slaves today than ever before in history and that’s what makes slavery ending as a successful test case for animal exploitation ending, so absurd. If the comparison of industrial exploitation of animals and slavery is at all relevant, it is as a test case that proves the opposite. Since slavery never really ended, what activists should draw from the fight against slavery isn’t inspiration, but disillusion. It is a wakeup call to look for other ways to end animal suffering.
Slavery is now illegal in every nation on earth, yet it can be found in every corner of the globe. Even under the narrowest definition of slavery it’s likely that there are far more slaves now than there were victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
In order to seriously confront slavery, legislation and enforcement are far from being enough, humanity must seriously confront slavery’s origin, which is poverty. For that, the rich world must decide to stop plundering the poorer world and minimize the luxurious lifestyle it enjoys. That’s not going to happen. Slavery will exist as long as there are power gaps between humans, and there will always be power gaps between humans.
Obviously most humans prefer to believe slavery was ended or at least that it is the work of particular evil people in the grimmest places on earth, a consequence of the wickedness of a tiny minority. The truth is that it is a consequence of the indifference of the majority who allows it to happen.
Many humans enjoy a high level of living largely because of modern slaves who make many of the products they buy and use every day. Slavery is prevalent in different stages of the supply chains from the production of raw materials like cacao, cotton, coffee, iron, rubber, wood, cobalt, wheat and sugar, to the manufacturing of every-day goods such as mobile phones or clothes made in sweatshops.
Despite being aware of it, most humans don’t bother themselves too much with the production process of the goods they enjoy. The same as they don’t when it comes to animal derived products. If anything, that is the relevant analogy to take from slavery.
The hopes of the animal liberation movement are laid on an institution that exists for about 15,000 years, was never ended nor reduced but was actually broadened in terms of the number of slaves, the enslavement methods, the ethnical diversity, and the geographical spread. Slavery has never ended but evolved with time and it is now not only much more extensive but also less visible, and that is the surest recipe to assure its continuance.
Slavery is almost everywhere, almost in everything. The fact that slavery kept growing in size, regardless of the fact that it is illegal now in every country in the world, shouldn’t be inspiring but alarming.
But not only the inspiration is false, the comparison itself is false, and it is so for several reasons which we have addressed in the post called 10 Reasons Why Human Slavery and Animal Institutionalized Exploitation are Incomparable.
Though we understand the rhetorical power of comparing nonhumans exploitation with humans exploitation, we find it crucial that activists realize how different they actually are before drawing conclusion regarding the likelihood of ending nonhumans’ exploitation.
Although the comparison between institutional exploitation of animals and slavery is commonly criticized for supposedly belittling human atrocities, as broadly detailed in 10 Reasons Why Human Slavery and Animal Institutionalized Exploitation are Incomparable, it actually does the exact opposite.
As horrible as slavery was and still is, when it comes to the number of aspects of life the enslavers are invading, the depth of their invasion, the exploitation functions, the circumferential systems and facilities of the exploitation, the knowledge and research involved and mainly the extent of the exploitation throughout history, it is incomparable.
Overall, the estimations of the slave trade are of about 30 to 40 million people during a period of about 400 years. When it comes to institutional exploitation of animals that number is suppressed after 2 hours.
Nothing can be compared with humans’ tyranny over animals. Not even the cruelest, most oppressive tyranny of humans over each other
While the world is getting farther and farther from being slavery-free, as hard as it is to realistically think this institution is abolishable, it is at least imaginable. A world without speciesism is unimaginable.