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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): Left-Leaning Critiques

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen

Left-Leaning Critiques

Agribusiness and other industries that commodify animals have been critiqued by feminists, along with other Left-leaning critics, as manifestations of a destructive, male-dominated corporate power structure.  In recent years the “ethic of care” feminist theory has been advocated as a corrective to the standard rights-based, utilitarian, and justice-based approaches to animal protection.  Ethical vegetarianism and other strands of feminist theory also remain vibrant, and the essay collections described below present a rich variety of viewpoints.

Lisa Kemmerer has edited collections of original essays on animal protection by women contributors, many of them activists, and some non-Western.  An example is Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, wherein she compiles compositions by fourteen women activists, most of whom are involved with social justice issues beyond their advocacy on behalf of animals.  Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth, edited by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen, presents thirteen essays from a 2012 conference, “Finding a Niche for All Animals.”  Many of the essays, including some by male philosophers and several by noted activists, directly concern ethical treatment of animals.

Philosopher Brian Luke’s Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals describes animal exploitation as a pattern of behavior that men and boys are enculturated to perform in order to establish and maintain their gender identity in a sexist, patriarchal society.  Luke explores hunting, vivisection, and the eating of meat as rituals of domination.  Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, by David Alan Nibert, elaborates the author’s counterintuitive hypothesis that animal domestication has been a disaster, rather than a boon to mankind.  Nibert coins the term “domesecration” to convey his radical view that domination of animals has led directly to human slavery, warfare, disease, and many other ills, aside from the abuse of uncounted millions of animals.  Nibert’s ambitious work takes a big-picture approach in the manner of Jared Diamond.

Critical Animal Studies: An Introduction by Dawne McCance critiques both the treatment of animals and the discourse of fellow animal ethicists.  McCance sees a lingering Cartesian dualism in the foundational publications of Regan, Singer, and other leaders of the animal protection movement.  She finds correctives in the philosophies of Derrida and Foucault.  The Rise of Critical Animal Studies: From the Margins to the Centre, edited by Nik Taylor and Richard Twine, presents a dozen contributions, most of which take feminist, Marxist, and other Left-leaning perspectives.  Both of these critical animal studies books are highly reflexive, with acute awareness of movement politics.  Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, edited by John Sanbonmatsu, is an excellent sampler of Left-leaning animal theory that offers fifteen contributions from feminists, Marxists, and other movement scholars united in their view of animal liberation as an economic and political struggle against the prevailing powers, rather than a matter of humane ideals or of individual rights.

Works Cited