Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 6

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Preface:  This article is the sixth installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

A precedent problem

Another serious obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement is the precedent problem:  while human slavery has been instituted and then cast off many times throughout history and in virtually every region of the world, full abolition has never yet been achieved.

Ancient societies from the golden age of Egypt to the golden age of Greece included slaves. Initially, many of the slaves were formerly the free members of a neighboring society that became enslaved when they lost a war with the enslaving society. After the initial conquest, however, the descendants of captured people were then born into slavery, such that a “slave class” of humans came into being, sometimes lasting for hundreds of years and comprising entire geographical regions. An extreme example of this far-reaching “slave class” and “slave region” phenomenon was that of the Helots, who were an enslaved people that reportedly outnumbered their oppressors in Sparta by more than ten to one.

But even the enslavement of the Helots at the hands of the militarily powerful Spartans came to an end, and human slaves have, at different times and in different places, managed to cast off their chains around the world and throughout human history. These many historical precedents have, in turn, served to guide, encourage, reassure, and motivate proto-abolitionists who came later.

Unfortunately, abolitionists do not have the benefit of such precedents for freeing the animals. To the best of my knowledge, no human society has ever abolished slavery beyond that of homo sapiens. Yes, some individual animals have been treated well by their human captors. Some dogs and cats, for instance, certainly appear to live happy, healthy, care-free lives in a human home. And other animals have just been left alone for the most part, such as deep-sea creatures or other animals who live in places that have so far remained relatively free from human invasion.

But, notwithstanding these fortunate individual cases, the stark social and legal reality has always been throughout human history that animals were considered by humans to be “property” or “propertizeable,” i.e., if one could capture or kill an animal, one owned that animal or her rotting corpse. Modernly, a handful of animal welfare laws have been enacted to prohibit a few egregious practices of animal abuse—cockfighting, for example. But abolition of slavery and emancipation of other animals are not, to my knowledge, even on the radar screen of most human societies.

The fact that full abolition has never been achieved, anywhere, anytime, should not discourage us. Many events that once seemed impossible have eventually come to pass. But acknowledging the special challenges faced by a full abolition movement will hopefully help to inoculate modern abolitionists against some of the burnout, frustration, and fatigue to which they may otherwise be susceptible.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.


(Original article pub date:  11/29/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

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Laguna 1

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 4

Preface:  This article is the fourth installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

Thanklessness:  the gratitude gap

Another significant obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement can be called the “gratitude gap”:  when slaves are human, those human slaves—once freed—can express gratitude to the people who helped emancipate them.  Specifically, because humans understand the tangible impact of abstractions, a former human slave understands and appreciates the labor of those who helped to change the political and economic system that once held those former slaves in bondage.

Thus, for instance, former human slaves could express their thanks to someone like Thaddeus Stevens or Angelina Grimké, even though they had never interacted directly.  Such gratitude not only rewards proto-abolitionists for their work after it has been completed, but the promise of such appreciation in the future also helps to motivate proto-abolitionists to hang in there before their work is done.

Unfortunately, abolitionists cannot expect any such reward from the animals for whom they work.  A cow will never know that a human manager is out there building an abolitionist political party on her behalf.  A mouse will never know that a human lawyer is out there fighting for animal rights.  Yes, an animal may indeed be eternally grateful to a human who physically opens a cage and carries that animal to freedom, as in the case of a beagle who is rescued from a torture (“vivisection”) laboratory.  But more abstract work performed by the many other people who participate in such a rescue will never be understood by the beneficiaries thereof.

That’s okay, of course.  We will win without the need for appreciation.  But it’s probably a good thing to accept from the outset that working for abolition will be a “thankless” endeavor.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.

Photo used with permission: Pig in window by Agnes Cseke. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

Pig corpse in window | photo by Agnes Cseke
Pig corpse in window | photo by Agnes Cseke

(Original article pub date:  11/26/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 3

Preface:  This article is the third installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

Victim testimony

Another significant difficulty that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement is an evidentiary problem, specifically, the lack of victim testimony. When slaves are human, those human slaves are articluate survivors of and eyewitnesses to the atrocities that are perpetrated against slaves.  When given the opportunity to do so, human slaves or former slaves can immediately describe—in human language—what happened to them or their fellow slaves.  Virtually no testimony is more powerful than that of the eyewitness or the victim himself or herself; thus, the ability of human slaves to provide such testimony is an enormous benefit to a proto-abolition movement.

The uniquely powerful value of the eyewitness and survivor can be illustrated though comparison of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.  Garrison was undoubtedly one of the most committed and articulate proto-abolitionists of any generation, and he played an integral role in the U.S.’s proto-abolition movement of the 1800s.  But, upon meeting Douglass, Garrison recognized that Douglass—as a first-hand survivor of and eyewitness to human slavery—could speak with an authority that Garrison could not fully possess.  Thus, after the two met, Garrison redirected much of his energy into elevating Douglass’s voice over his own.

Unfortunately, a full abolition movement cannot expect any such testimony from slavery survivors who are not human.  No turkey will write an article about the bloodbath that Americans call “Thanksgiving.”  No hen will deliver a speech about life in a cage that was too small for her to raise her wings.  No pig will recount the experience of being castrated without anesthesia.  There may, in short, never be a Frederick Douglass for the modern abolition movement.

Notwithstanding this absence of testimony from actual survivors, abolitionists still can get eyewitness information.  One way to get eyewitness information is through undercover work:  a human can infiltrate an animal-killing or animal-raping business and use a camera to take footage of the horrors perpetrated against the victims of such businesses.  This route is employed today by organizations such as Compassion Over Killing and Mercy for Animals.  Also, certain animal abuses leave a physical effect on the victim’s body which can be seen by a third party, even if the victim cannot verbally convey the pain of experience such abuse.

In short, while the challenge is greater without the benefit of first-hand survivor testimony, this absence can be partly offset through human effort and observation.

Revisit Part 1 and Part 2.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.

Photo used with permission: Pigs being transported to their deaths by Agnes Cseke. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

Pigs being transported to their deaths | photo by Agnes Cseke
Pigs being transported to their deaths | photo by Agnes Cseke

(Original article pub date:  11/25/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 2

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Preface:  This article is the second installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

Collective resistance

Another significant difference between ending human slavery and ending slavery of other animals pertains to collective resistance, armed revolt, and organized rebellion:  when humans are slaves, the potential for an armed, organized slave uprising is present at virtually all times.  This threat puts pressure on the oppressor class, forcing them to spend a significant portion of their resources on precautionary measures to guard against a revolt.  In short, the “slave front” drains the oppressor’s resources in its war against the slaves.  Moreover, actual slave uprisings, e.g., Nat Turner’s Rebellion (the “Southampton Insurrection”) (1831), sometimes break out despite the oppressors’ safeguards, inflicting damage directly upon the slaveholder class, their persons and their property.

Unfortunately, however, a full abolition movement can expect to receive very little assistance from the slave front.  The possibility of, for example, laboratory rats organizing a coordinated, armed, violent uprising is virtually non-existent.  The same goes for, say, farmed animals who are slated for slaughter:  a collective revolt comprising sheep or cows or chickens is just very unlikely.

Yes, occasional acts of individual heroism do occur, as in the case of a lion or tiger who kills a circus trainer.  But collective, sustained revolt from within the slave class will not happen.  To my knowledge, only primates and elephants have been documented to engage in substantial, coordinated retaliatory action against homo sapiens.

That a full abolition movement cannot expect to benefit from help of the slaves themselves does not itself, of course, render abolition impossible.  We will win.   But it is helpful to appreciate that the challenges facing a full abolition movement are substantially larger than those that have been surmounted by proto-abolition movements and that some of the resources with which to meet those challenges are not as readily available to a full abolition movement.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.

Laguna 3
Laguna 3

(Original article pub date:  11/24/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 1

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Preface:  This article is the first in a series of articles discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.

The virtuous cycle

One significant difference between ending human slavery and ending slavery of other animals pertains to what may be called a “virtuous cycle”:  when a human slave is freed, he or she becomes part of the anti-slavery movement.  The former slave can take up arms—literally or figuratively—against the enslavement of other humans.  Thus, a proto-abolition movement accelerates with each and every successful freeing of an individual.

That virtuous feedback cycle does not, unfortunately, happen when slaves of other species are freed.  For instance, when a cat is rescued from a vivisection lab, that cat is not going to pick up a pen or a sword to help free other cats from torture.

This distinction is but one of the many reasons why the movement to end slavery—meaning, all slavery—faces numerous challenges not faced by movements that were directed at ending human slavery only.  We’ll win anyway, but it’s important to understand that simply repeating what proto-abolition movements did will not likely suffice for full abolition.

A look ahead…

In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements.  If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.

Laguna 4
Laguna 4

(Original article pub date:  11/23/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

REVIEW: “Do Unto Others . . . A Conference on Animals and Religion” by Interreligious Voices for Animal Compassion

A New Kind of Conference

I’m departing from the usual topic for this column to provide a review of  a conference I attended on Friday, April 24, 2009.

Hosted at the Fish Interfaith Center of Chapman University, the event was entitled “Do Unto Others . . . A Conference on Animals and Religion”. This conference—the first of its kind in Southern California—was put together by a group of scholars who have taken on the name of “Interreligious Voices for Animal Compassion” (or just “IVAC”), including Zandra Wagoner, Beth A. Johnson, and Ronald L. Farmer.

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The conference was a wonderful experience, and I sincerely hope that this one will be the beginning of an annual (at a minimum) tradition.

Some Highlights

The facility itself, particularly Wallace All Faiths Chapel, was certainly conducive to the kind of thoughtful discussion and contemplation that the day provided. Beginning at 9:00am, this hall was filled with wonderful harp music that began the day and was interspersed between speakers for the first hour.

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Introductory speakers provided some background regarding how the conference came about as well as quotes and a series of personal statements pertaining to animals in the context of spirituality. These speakers were followed by a first keynote speaker, Jay McDaniel, Director for the Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy at Hendrix College in Arkansas and author of numerous books, including the classic Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life.

Jay’s talk not only set forth a number of powerful intellectual insights regarding animals and how they are viewed in the world’s major religions but also allowed glimpses into his personal experiences related to animals and how these experiences have shaped his own world view of the value of life. Jay has a knack for being able to address high philosophy and self-effacing humor simultaneously, which made his presentation a delight that went by too quickly.

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Beth Johnson and Jay McDaniel prepare for a vegan dinner.

In between the morning events, participants mingled with representatives from a number of different animal-related organizations, including Animal Acres founder and Farm Sanctuary pioneer Lorri Houston

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Shelley Harrison and Lorrie Houston take a break between sessions.

The Christian Vegetarian Assocation had a display providing a wide variety of literature, as did Peta, and the conference organizers also provided display copies of about forty key books in the field.

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After breaking for a vegan lunch, conference-goers chose two out of six different one-hour workshops to attend consecutively during the afternoon. I personally attended a session called “Inside the Trenches: An Evangelical Looks at Animal Compassion,” which was led by Presbyterian Minister Reverend Mark Bruner, and “Schweitzer and the Animals”, which was led by Dr. Marvin Meyer, Chair of the Religious Studies Department and Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Chapman. Both sessions were excellent, and I wished I had been able to attend all six.

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Thereafter, the conference reconvened as a single group for a panel discussion featuring McDaniel, Johnson and Wagoner. This portion was one of my favorite parts of the day, since the flexibility of the format allowed for a great deal of spontaneous discussion and Q&A between the conference-goers and featured speakers.

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That evening, we all gathered for a vegan feast in a different location on the Chapman campus. The dinner was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the people at my table. We shared light-hearted stories regarding being vegan in a world that eats dead animals as well as discussed strategies on how to get the word out about the pervasive cruelty in our culture. I found it encouraging and uplifting to be around like-minded folks.

Batting clean-up hitter for the day was the vivacious Karen Dawn, author of Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals, which has received numerous accolades, including that of being among the “Best Books of the Year” according to the Washington Post. Like Jay, Karen is somehow able to discuss grave–and sometimes heartbreaking–matters and yet remain fun, witty and charming while doing it.

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 Karen Dawn discusses her fowl friends at the evening banquet.

Overall, the event was a smashing success. I hope there are many more to follow.

For more information:
http://www.chapman.edu/chapel/animalConference/

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(Original pub date: 5/15/2009 (Cruelty-Free))

Compartmentalization—The Walls of Evil

The Most Gruesome Photo Album of the Last Century

In 2007, the New York Times, NPR, and other media reported the discovery of a photo album containing what I consider to be the most gruesome photographs from all of the Second World War. But these photos do not depict a single dead or wounded body. They are far more ghastly even than that.

The album belonged to SS officer Karl Hocker, who was assigned to Auschwitz from May 1944 until liberation of the camp by the Allies. The photos show SS guards and their friends frolicking, flirting, decorating Christmas trees—engaging in all manner of activities that a seemingly “normal” human being would do. And all this took place in the shadow of—or in some cases within the actual walls of—a death camp in which these very same frolickers were daily murdering other human beings by the thousands.

Take a moment to recreate the context of these photographs. A man gets up in the morning, has breakfast, kisses his wife, gives the kids a hug, pets the dog on the head, and goes to work—gassing and cooking people to death, that is.

The Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) grasped the general notion as “the banality of evil” in her breakthrough 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She argued persuasively and influentially that the greatest evils in history, such as the Holocaust, have been perpetrated not by sociopathic demons but by seemingly normal people who engaged unthinkingly in atrocities that were assigned to them by authority figures. The 1961 Milgram experiment at Yale and the 1971 Stanford prison experiment both appeared to reproduce a similar effect.

Compartmentalization:  The Walls of Evil

Even if it is true that otherwise normal people—from Auschwitz to Stanford—can be relatively easily influenced to commit gargantuan acts of evil, the question to me that remains is simply this:  how is such a phenomenon possible at the psychological level? How did bank teller, husband and father Karl Hocker make the daily transition from these other roles to that of aiding and abetting mass murder?

I think the answer lies in the psychological notion of  “compartmentalization”. Compartmentalization denotes the process whereby human minds engage in a form of what logicians call “confirmation bias”. The gist of it is this: we tend to ignore, forget or “wall off” evidence that conflicts with our current views of ourselves.

For someone like Karl Hocker, compartmentalization allowed him to (i) accept evidence that reinforced the view of himself himself as a loving, competent bank teller, community member, Christmas tree decorator and family man and (ii) simultaneously ignore overwhelming evidence that he and his SS friends were completely psychopathic, serial-killing monsters. This is confirmation bias at its best (or worst).

In short, rather than integrate information and accept disconfirming evidence, the person who engages in compartmentalization can live essentially two distinct, disintegrated lives. Such a person is never forced to deal with the crisis of conscience that an integrated person would certainly face.

Compartmentalization is the wall that allows evil to run free within the mind of an otherwise seemingly healthy individual.

Pro-Survival Trait

If compartmentalization is indeed the grand enabler of evil, the question remains how compartmentalization ever evolved in the first place, since mass murder of one’s neighbors would seem to be a trait that would get an individual quickly weeded out of the gene pool.

Upon close inspection, however, the positive effects of compartmentalization are not hard to identify. We are all fallible human beings, and each of us endures a large number of losses, setbacks, and injuries in our lives. If we were unable to set these things aside—ignore them, at least for a while—and move on, we would all eventually curl up in a fetal position and just waste away. Our first failure at something would be the last time we ever tried to succeed at anything. Our first romance-gone-bad would be the last relationship we ever undertook. Our first loss on the baseball field would be the last game we ever played.

Walling off information that would hurt or destroy one’s sense of positive self-worth can thus be seen generally as a pro-survival trait. Only problem is that this trait, like many other pro-survival traits, may also have dire negative side effects.

Unthinking commission of mass murder probably qualifies as a negative side effect. . . .

The Most Gruesome Photo Album of the Next Century—Starring You

There’s just one more little thing to cover in this article. It’s a photo album that will be discovered and printed in the New York Times in the year 2109. And it’s the most gruesome photo album anyone has seen since that of Karl Hocker.

Interesting thing about this album: just like Hocker’s, there’s no blood. No gore. No death nor even injury depicted. The photos just depict a happy family person who wakes up, kisses the spouse, hugs the kids, pets the dog, and heads off to work. This normal person in the photo album passes a slaughterhouse on the way to work, inside of which thousands of innocent, sensitive and intelligent pigs are being killed everyday. The star of the photo album never once thinks twice at lunch as he or she eats a piece of bacon.

That person is a master of compartmentalization.

That person is you.


Resources: “In the Shadow of Horror, SS Guardians Frolic”
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/arts/design/19photo.html?ei=5088&en=27740491a041f02f&ex=1347854400&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1190242524-qvlKU37R0NQ1EEQwO3Jh1w

“Confirmation bias” at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

“Self-Structure and Self-Esteem Stability: The Hidden Vulnerability of Compartmentalization ”
http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/33/2/143


(Original pub date:  April 19th, 2009 (Cruelty-Free))