Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 6

Laguna 1
 
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))

Laguna 1
Laguna 1

Special Challenges for Modern Abolitionists: Part 5

Laguna 2

Preface:  This article is the fifth 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.

Think, think, think….

Another significant obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement pertains to the massive amount of thinking involved.  Specifically,  when slaves are human, those human slaves can assist with the enormous amount of cognitive work that must be done.

Changing an entire society’s unjust laws and eradicating an entire culture’s false beliefs requires an enormous amount of analysis, research, imagination, calculation, strategizing, and planning.  This intellectual dimension of a social change movement may well be the hardest part of all.  In the context of human slavery, the most direct victims—slaves and former slaves themselves—can participate fully in this difficult task.  They know the slavery system better than anyone, and they can use this knowledge to help identify weaknesses, formulate counter-arguments, and otherwise chisel away at the walls of collective delusion.

Unfortunately, abolitionists cannot expect the animals for whom they work to shoulder much of this cognitive burden.  Horses—who provided the key military advantage in human affairs for over 1000 years—cannot offer a similar advantage in the context of research and development.  Dogs—arguably the most selfless and courageous species, on average, of any with whom humans have interacted—cannot draw a roadmap for use in transforming humans into ethical nobility.  Yes, both of these species can lead by example, through the testimony of their personal behavior.  But it will remain up to humans to extract lessons from such examples, articulate those lessons, disseminate them, and apply them.

The fact that the most direct victims of slavery cannot fully participate in the intellectual work necessary for change should not discourage us.  We will win as sure as the sun will rise.  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: 11/27/13 (FB);  12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))

Laguna 2
Laguna 2

 

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

Laguna 3

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))

Distinguishing abolition, proto-abolition, emancipation, and manumission

Four words explained

Animal rights activists and ethical vegans are increasingly using the word abolition, but this growing popularity appears to be accompanied by some confusion about what the word actually means.  This article aims to serve as a quick, informal guide to the meaning of this word, abolition, vis-a-vis three related words:  emancipation, manumission, and proto-abolition.

Emancipation is the freeing of one or more actual living beings from slavery.  Emancipation does not happen to a legal system; rather, emancipation happens to an individual, living creature.

Example:  Before emancipation, Bill is a slave; after emancipation, Bill is no longer a slave.

Manumission is a subset of emancipation.  Specifically, manumission is the freeing of one or more actual living beings from slavery by the slaveholder.

Example:  Jane is the “owner” of Bill, a slave; one day, Jane decides to release Bill such that Bill is no longer a slave.  That event—the freeing of Bill by Jane—is an instance of manumission.

Abolition is the dismantling of the legal institution of slavery itself.  Abolition does not happen to an individual, living creature.  Abolition happens to a legal system.  Specifically, the given sovereign abolishes the institution of slavery.

Example:  Before abolition, Country X has a legal structure that allows slavery; after abolition, Country X’s legal structure does not allow slavery.

Proto-abolition is the dismantling of the legal institution of human slavery but not of all slavery.  Like full abolition, proto-abolition happens to a legal system, not an individual.

Example:  Before proto-abolition, Country X has a legal structure that allows human slavery; after proto-abolition, Country X’s legal structure does not allow human slavery but still does allow slavery of other species.

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deathline