Thursday, August 28, 2014

Animal Suffering Motivates Behavior Change

I came across a unique vending machine idea in Istanbul that encourages folks to recycle and to feed and water free-living dogs and cats. People insert recyclables into the vending machine, and it dispenses food (click for more images and a video).  There is also a spout for people walking buy with water bottles to share their leftover water with thirsty nonhumans.   The inventor suggests that the purpose of the project is to instill a feeling of efficacy regarding pro-social behavior, but I see something else at work here.  It seems that these vending machines use images of other animals (both happy and sad pictures are used) in order to create behavior change.  This is promising, because it reaffirms what many of us are already aware of--humans care about other animals, want them to experience pleasure and safety, and want them to avoid suffering.

This project is also interesting because it creates an easy opportunity for passerby to act on their desire to behave pro-socially for other animals in their community in a meaningful and direct way.  One of the major problems with mainstream animal advocacy is that non-profits keep concerned individuals distanced from the social problem, encouraging them to participate only through donations and perhaps petition signing. Large non-profits like Vegan Outreach often turn volunteers away, asking for their money instead. I have argued that this approach is disempowering (meaning only those with financial means can participate, while a large variety of other useful skills and non-monetary contributions are devalued or ignored) and elitist (privileged folks from middle-class backgrounds with expensive college degrees get to make the decision on where the money goes and what solutions are appropriate).

I also think this type of approach widens the human-nonhuman divide by putting animal suffering "out there" "somewhere," hurting "some animals."  Indeed, social psychological research has shown that distance of this kind can impact a person's desire to behave pro-socially (for instance, more Americans donate and donate more to hurricane relief in the United States than they do to provide assistance to those suffering natural disasters in "far off lands" like Asia).  Hands-on social change efforts like vending machines keep people in direct contact with vulnerable persons in their community, instilling empathy, social responsibility, and the desire to act pro-socially.  Research shows that when people feel like they can "do" something and that their "something" will make a difference, they are much more likely to participate and to continue to participate in the future.

On the other hand . . . I'm not too keen on the survival of homeless dogs and cats relying only on the kindness of strangers.  Access to necessities like food and water should be basic rights afforded to urban-dwelling nonhumans.  Likewise, this type of activism represents only a band-aid effort at helping other animals, and does nothing to seriously address structural problems and ideologies of speciesism that create these problems in the first place.  I am also concerned that this form of "easy activism" can aggravate that problem.  True, many people do not engage social movements because of the cost or risk potentially involved, but some types of social problems cannot be solved with a quick fix.  Can we create a vending machine that encourages people to go vegan and to stay vegan?


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Fetishization of “Animal-Friendly” Animal Products: The Body Shop Example


In the San Francisco airport earlier this week on return from a conference, I stopped in The Body Shop for the first time in search of a birthday present for a friend. I knew that The Body Shop had a large vegan inventory, but had to ask the sales clerk for certainty as nothing was labeled. While he was searching for a list, he informed me that most of the products were vegan, and those that were not were produced in ways that “doesn’t harm the animals.”  I guess the expected or typical response would be, “Oh, wonderful! My mind is at ease! Let me buy all the things!”  Instead, I was quick to clarify that all exploitation involves harm. 

I told him that the animals used to make the eggs, milk, or whatever else in their products1 have their babies taken away and eventually end up slaughtered.  A little annoyed at his offensive sales pitch, I also said that, “That’s the same thing LUSH says,” though clarifying that The Body Shop was a better alternative because of LUSH’s misogynistic sales tactics.  Hey, that has to count for something, I guess.

Afterwards, I sent a tweet to The Body Shop, expressing my concern that the clerk had so blatantly misinformed me regarding their ingredient sourcing.  Their Twitter account only responded with more nonsense:

@CoreyLeeWrenn Hi Corey, maybe it was a misunderstanding but non [sic] of our products harm the animals

A misunderstanding?  Is there any misunderstanding the violence that happens to the sheep used to produce the lanolin in their products?  Is there any misunderstanding the veal calves languishing in crates and mother cows carted off to slaughterhouses in order to obtain milk derivatives for their products? Is there any misunderstanding the mass killing of bees done to obtain their wax and honey?  Apparently so, as one of my readers reported to me that she was informed by a TBS clerk that their products containing bees’ wax are vegan because “bees aren’t animals.”2 3 I suspect that, like LUSH, TBS also markets cage-free egg-based products or hormone-free/grass-fed/free-range/whatever milk-based products.  Ooh la la . . . exploitation made pretty.  The Body Shop, like LUSH, markets itself as a compassionate company—that simultaneously profits hugely off the institutionalized exploitation and death (yes, death, or rather, murder) of Nonhuman Animals.  Oh, but it is papaya scented!


Telling customers that non-vegan products “don’t harm the animals” is false advertising of the worst kind.  Obviously, the sales clerk was just telling me anything I wanted to hear to get a sale.4  I walked in the door stating that I cared about animal justice and that my friend for whom I was purchasing the present for cared about animal justice.  So, animal justice is exactly what he’s going to sell me.  Of course, TBS, like most companies that exist off the backs of the oppressed, bank on customers never questioning or thinking critically about their ethical claimsmaking.5  As long as they make these claims, use these labels, and enjoy uncritical promotion by large non-profits like PETA, who would really think to question their authenticity?  This is especially so because we live in a society convinced by Nonhuman Animal “rights” and “welfare” organizations that it is okay to use other animals as long as we do so “nicely” (of course, what constitutes “nicely” will be left up to the discretion of those who exploit animals).

What is happening here is that The Body Shop, Aveda, LUSH, and other pseudo-vegan “natural” companies that cater to socially & environmentally conscious customers are fetishizing “animal-friendliness” to artificially meet the demand for ethical products.  Continuing to rely on animal products is likely cheaper (or at least easier) in an industry that has a path dependency on non-vegan ingredients and processes.  In this way, The Body Shop, Aveda, and LUSH are not really much different from Tyson, Smithfield, or whoever else PETA and HSUS are awarding lately for their astounding “progress” for Nonhuman Animals.  When I hear TBS tell me that their non-vegan products “don’t hurt the animals,” I am reminded of Tyson commercials with little cartoon chickens bouncing about as the narrator assures us how happy their chickens are on their vegetarian, hormone-free diets. 

If you have a choice, always shop from a 100% vegan company.  And, if it is a vegan company, also make sure (if you can) that they aren’t hurting humans (is it ethically sourced?) or other animals indirectly (Seventh Generation, for instance, is supporting legislation for “environmentally sound” products that will require genocidal levels of suffering and death for Nonhuman Animals used in vivisection). 

It should be clear from the litany of criticisms surrounding the so-called “green economy” that we cannot buy our way to social justice. I have to buy my shampoo somewhere, so I’m going to get what I need as ethically-sourced as I can based on my access, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking that my savvy vegan shopping is going to end oppression. These products are important to help us maintain our vegan lifestyle (if we are lucky enough to enjoy the access to them),6 but it would be a mistake to expect radical revolution within the capitalist system. The capitalist system is designed to feed on exploitation. Capitalism cannot exist without exploitation.  This means that we cannot have truly oppression-free products within capitalism, but also that we cannot change the world unless we change our economic system.  


Update

The Body Shop responds on Facebook, failing to address what happens to the animals and suggesting that veganism is irrelevant to a "humane" lifestyle.  Using animals "humanely" is apparently just as "cruelty-free" as veganism.



Notes

1.  To be clear, I am not positive what exact animal ingredients The Body Shop uses, as that would necessitate my going through the entire product line and reading each and every ingredient list. I have seen from internet forums that they use bee products and lanolin.  Based on what I know from other “natural” products, I expect egg and milk-derivatives are also used to some extent.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but 99.99% of “natural” companies do this, and I have no reason to believe TBS is any different if they are not a vegan company.

2.  Marc Bekoff would disagree. He has cited some interesting research in his latest book Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation that demonstrates an incredible level of sentience in bees.  Bees have many of the same brain chemicals as us, allowing them to feel pleasure and pain (including emotional pain).

3.  My salesclerk provided me with a printed list of their products that are “free from animal ingredients.”  Does this include bees’ products?

4.  I’ve had this happen before when a man selling bees’ wax based hand cream grabbed my hand as I walked by his booth at a festival and began rubbing it into my skin (borderline sexual harassment).  As I was telling him I was vegan and not interested, he was telling me that the product doesn’t harm animals and that bees don’t count. Then he slapped me with a sticker that read, “I just got a hand job!” (okay, now it is definitely sexual harassment).

4.  The recent Starbucks Coffee campaign that offers “free” college tuition is another good example, as is just about any “fair trade” coffee labeling scheme by Starbucks or any other coffee chain.

5.  Keep in mind that “buying” social justice is a tactic only affordable to a small percentage of privileged individuals, and necessarily excludes the masses…the very masses needed to make large-scale social change.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Theorizing the Role of "Pets" Under Capitalism



Companion animals, like other domesticated animals, are distinct from human proletarians in that they so not sell their labor power under the pretense of free choice. Rather, companion animals are themselves commodities. Their labor power is sold all at once, by others, unlike proletarians who sell their labor power in increments. Further, companion animals work toward the creation of a marketable commodities, as do other domesticated animals. While, say, cows involuntarily labor toward the production of milk, offspring, and flesh, companion animals involuntarily labor toward the reproduction of human labor power.

Richard B. Lee defined the reproduction of labor power, a Marxist concept, this way. “In a capitalist mode of production, reproduction of labor power occurs on a daily and generational basis," Lee said. "Daily reproduction of labor power involves the provision of food, clothing, rest, and emotional support for the workers, the task of restoring their depleted capacity for work, while generational reproduction of labor power involves child rearing and child care, the work involved in producing the next generation of workers."

Companion animals are involved in the daily reproduction of human labor power by helping to meet their owners' psychological and emotional needs. This forced contribution is quantifiable. Studies show that human proletarians who own pets have lower blood pressure, anxiety, and risk of depression, among other things. According to Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at Mayo Clinic,"A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can't always explain it myself, but for years now I've seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”

But on the whole, pet ownership certainly doesn't benefit companion animals. According to the website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of the 7.6 million pets who enter shelters nationwide every year, 2.7 million unwanted, healthy animals are killed. Human domestic violence figures perhaps give the best idea of pet abuse's scope. According to the Humane Society of the United States, over two million people (primarily women) are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year, and 71 percent of victims say their abusers also targeted their companion animals. No doubt more prevalent than intentional cruelty toward pets is unintentional neglect by well-meaning owners. Even when this is not the case, companion animals' lives are inevitably dull and circumscribed, as these creatures have been reduced to near-complete dependency on their human masters.


As the socialist animalist Henry Stephens Salt said, "The injustice done to the pampered lap-dog is as conspicuous, in its way, as that done to the over-worked horse, and both spring from one and the same origin—the fixed belief that the life of a ‘brute’ has no ‘moral purpose,’ no distinctive personality worthy of due consideration and development. In a society where the lower animals were regarded as intelligent beings, and not as animated machines, it would be impossible for this incongruous absurdity to continue."

Whatever my writing here may suggest, I don't put a high premium on abstract theory. I'm sympathetic to 'Big Bill' Haywood's quip regarding the value of experiential learning, in which the Wobbly leader said, "I've never read Marx's Capital, but I have the marks of capital all over me." In a similar way, I think many are able to see the marks of capital all over animals, without needing an intellectual system to explain it. But for whatever reason, some socialists don't see these marks. For them especially, I think it would be helpful to codify a Marxist animalism, if you will.

As I've mentioned in past essays, the minutiae of theory is not my strongest suit. I'm sure there are some errors here, besides the intentional subversion of classical Marxism’s anthropocentrism. But I have no doubt other anti-speciesist socialists can radically expand, and, where necessary, correct, this brief sketch of companion animals' role under capitalism. I hope they will.



Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the founder of SpeciesandClass.com and is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his personal website by clicking here

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can Non-Violent Protest Work for Animal Rights?

I wanted to followup on my essay published yesterday on the foolhardiness of "non-violent" direct action as a drain on our resources. Some readers had questions about he effectiveness of protest and I want to flesh out these ideas. Importantly, yesterday's essay put "non-violent" in quotations for a reason:  I was specifically referring to violent direct action which many people misconstrue as non-violent. I gave two examples:  A group of people stalking the private home of a woman involved in vivisection, and myself and a friend yelling like a couple of rednecks at the horse-carriage driver in downtown Fort Collins.  Neither of these are "peaceful" or "non-violent" actions, and the police, understandably, don't take too kindly to it. People wind  up in jail, and people in jail costs our movement (and aggravates the bad image of Nonhuman Animal activism).

But what about truly non-violent protest?  Can that work? Many readers pointed to the importance of this tactic in achieving social justice for other movements.  I want to explore why, for anti-speciesist efforts, I don't think this is an effective tactic either.

Single-Issue Campaigns


First, the vast majority of protesting in our movement pertains to single-issue campaigning.  Most people out marching and holding signs are doing so to save the dolphins, to ban "fur," or to end factory farms, etc.  Single-issue campaigning has a lot of serious flaws and have been heavily critiqued by many abolitionists as confusing and piecemeal.  You can explore my position on single-issue campaigns in an article I have published with Food, Culture & Society available on my academia.edu page.  See links below.

Consider the organization, Igualdad Animal/Animal Equality. They conduct non-violent protest, but they do so by specifically focusing on single-issues, like the dog and cat flesh trade in Asia. Protest of this kind picks "low-hanging fruit" and tends to obscure the more important structural problems by meeting people where they already are and not pushing them to examine speciesism. Most people in the US and Europe love dogs and cats, for instance, and already agree that they shouldn't be killed for food.  Most people also agree that animals should not suffer "unnecessarily" in factory farms and reforms should be implemented.  Less common are those protests that ask people to consider their personal engagement with exploitation and to recognize speciesism as an institution of oppression.  Without a push to deconstruct speciesism at this level, single-issue campaigns are not accomplishing meaningful change.

Political Context


As it stands now, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is not viewed favorably by most Americans. Advocates for other animals are currently considered a terrorist group (thanks in part to the violent actions of many protesters). For protest to work in our favor, we need to rebrand ourselves as serious social justice activists, not unstable vandals and terrorists.

For that matter, we also lack the numbers.  In the 1990, the movement was able to rally 25,000 activists to march on Washington.  By 1996, only 3,000 or so showed up for the followup march.  This pitiful turnout didn't show much evidence of solidarity or strength.  We appeared marginal and irrelevant. In most protests today, less than 100 (and usually less than 25 people) show up. Indeed, my local news just covered a zoo protest where only two or three protesters were present. I will explore why I think this is in the next section, but for now, I want to emphasize that Nonhuman Animal activism is viewed unfavorably, many people are hesitant to participate, and publicizing our small numbers invites public observers to easily dismiss us as a few weirdos up to no good.

What about Igualdad Animal? Are their protests effective?  Well, maybe they get some people thinking, I can't deny that. However, I suspect that many people view these activists as weird and disturbed, because most people in society are unfamiliar with vegan ethics and most support (or at least see nothing wrong) with speciesism.  The law, the media, the medical establishment, the schools, etc. all tell us that using animals in socially sanctioned ways is normal, acceptable, and good.  Until we create a more favorable political atmosphere, how effective do we think these types of protest will be?  Be honest with yourself, what do you think is going through the heads of some of the people looking at the protesters? When they go home to their friends and family, what do you think their description will be like?



The Non-Profit Industrial Complex


One of the most important reasons why we can't garner solidarity (and why the 1996 march was so pitiful) has been the rise of non-profitization in Nonhuman Animal rights.  Groups became competitive, fundraising-focused, and issue-specific.  The non-profit industrial complex means that protesting and other campaigning is often only employed to raise membership and press coverage (in other words, the organizations are prioritizing fundraising over social justice work).  I have written quite a bit on the role of non-profitization in defanging social justice work (see below). So long as the movement is distracted with paying salaries and keeping the cashflow rolling, they are going to be utilizing tactics that maximize financial return, rather than tactics that are most effective for challenging exploitation (single-issue campaigns play right into this approach, as they target issues most everyone already agrees upon and will gladly financially support).  Non-profitization conflates effective advocacy with fundraising, but fundraising and bureacruatization are principle components of capitalism.  We can't deconstruct an exploitative capitalist system by continuing to operate within it.

Consider Igualdad Animal again.  Even in their more vegan-centric protests, they have all volunteers wear t-shirts brandishing their organization's name and posters/signs brandish the name as well.  Their website is packed with "donate" buttons.  But why the need for this tribalism in our advocacy?  Why does one of their most favored forms of protest (holding Nonhuman Animal corpses in public spaces) require fundraising to this extent?  They steal bodies from the trash and have volunteers hold them--this is free activism.  They fundraise because they have bureaucratized; they choose tactics that get attention and promote their name so they can improve fundraising.  Capitalist ideology has corrupted social justice work by convincing activists that bigger and bureaucratic is better and that money is the most important end goal.



Future Potential


This is not to say that I believe non-violent protesting does not have future potential.  If the movement were to adopt a vegan-centric, abolitionist position and protest speciesism (as opposed to single-issues), protest could serve a purpose. If the movement were to gain in numbers and could mobilize a large number of people to give our message weight, we would not seem like a marginalized group of terrorists and killjoys.  If the movement would see protest as a means of ending the exploitation of animals rather than a means of organizational publicity and fundraising, there may be hope.  As it stands, our movement is too small, too disdained, and too focused on making money to feed its bureaucracy.  Before protest could become effective, other steps need to be taken to improve the efficacy and public image of our movement.  Other movements have successfully used protest, but they tended to enjoy a much more favorable political environment.

Of course, this essay begs the question, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"  In other words, how can we create a public that is ready for our protest without protesting?  I am not dismissing the utility of protest outright.  I am simply asking us to be critical about the message we are giving and how useful protest will be given current contexts.  I maintain the abolitionist position that the most effective use of our time is to promote veganism using non-violent educational measures. And yes, I accept that there are some vegan-centric forms of non-violent protesting that counts as abolitionist vegan education.  Consider Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary's annual "Walk for Peace," which brings together vegan advocates and interested non-vegans for a short march. The event includes educational tabling and free vegan food.

We need to build up a sympathetic public and we need to be critical of ineffectual and toxic movement policies and tactics.  Until we get things sorted in these departments, protest is not likely to be useful.  In the meantime, it would be very interesting if organizations could conduct research to determine how effective their protesting has been on the attitudes and behaviors of their communities. For instance, if Igualdad Animal's public corpse display is turning people vegan, we may need to take a closer look at non-violent protest of this kind.

Relevant Citations & Further Reading

Dan Cudahy - Single-Issue Campaigns:  Pruning Exploitation
Corey Wrenn - A Critique of Single-issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy
Mylène Ouellet - Why I Won't Support Single-Issue Campaigns

Corey Wrenn - Nonhuman Animal Rights, Alternative Food Systems, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
Corey Wrenn - The Non-Profit Industrial Complex: Effective Animal Advocacy & Your Checkbook

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Non-Violent" Direct Action Protest Doesn't Work, More Importantly IT IS EXPENSIVE

There are a variety of reasons why people support "non-violent" direct action protesting--it raises awareness, it gives activists a feeling of "doing something," or it is even supposed to challenge "free speech" restrictions.  I think these justifications are largely bogus at worst, or reflect a lack of critical thinking at best.

In a recent protest, one organization decided it would be excellent "non-violent" campaigning to target the private home of a woman to "non-violently" pressure her into ending her participation in vivisection.  First, I would challenge that stalking women is never "non-violent."  Second, this approach just does not work.


It would be one thing to waste the time of volunteers with this ineffectual protesting, but what really becomes problematic is when these folks inevitably get in trouble--arrested, charged, etc.--and then turn around and beg for money to cover them. Indeed, when researching Nonhuman Animal liberation media from the 70s and 80s for my dissertation, I was struck at just what a large percentage of space was dedicated to supporting people who have (not surprisingly) gotten in trouble with the law.

Our movement is desperate for resources. We need people and we need money. When we put our people in jail and then spend our fundraising efforts attempting to bail out stalkers, harassers, vandals and arsonists, that's not helping the animals.  We live in a world that is deeply speciesist, with media channels, the public, and the police on the side of capitalist enterprise and social privilege.  It is nothing short of foolhardy to think that harassing people at home is going to do anything good for Nonhuman Animal liberation.

Just as a personal example, earlier this summer, I was walking with a vegan friend through downtown Fort Collins. Fort Collins is unfortunately still in the stone age and uses horse-drawn carriages to drag tourists around the streets, and this is considered quaint and "Old West."  Emboldened by the support of my friend and honestly sick to death of seeing these straining horses lumbering by over and over, my friend and I began yelling out  slogans of animal liberation from across the street as we passed by on our way to our destination.  Later that night, the slaveowner tracked us down on a dark street far from the populated and well-lit areas of downtown. He was a big man in our face threatening us; we were two young women. I called 911.

Fast forward 30 minutes later, we had been surrounded by 5-6 police officers who were grilling us about our violent actions and lecturing us on interfering with our attacker's "business." They had tracked down the perpetrator, and he, of course, spun up an elaborate story that suggested we had been in his face, spitting on him, etc. (a miraculous feet for two women who were on the other side of the street from him).  "He says you were calling him a slave driver," one officer accused.  I said, "He is a slave driver."  But, our position is not interpreted as logic, only harassment. After the thirty minute interrogation, we escaped arrest by the skin of our teeth.  "We won't arrest you this time . . . " they warned.


This was not something that I had planned, just some off the cuff remarks, because, hey, free speech right?  Wrong. The world sees Nonhuman Animals as objects and resources . . . and it sees anyone who interferes with that as anti-capitalist, terroristic, hooligans.  You know what? If I had been arrested, I wouldn't be surprised.  He was a respected business owner and a man.  Me?  I was just an angry young woman, a killjoy, and potentially dangerous.  The system is not designed for that type of "protest" to succeed.  I didn't plan my "direct action" protest, though.  Thousands of activists, however, make this their primary form of activism.

...and they waste our time and money by endlessly campaigning for funding to support court cases, appeals, and incarcerated activists who are no longer one lick of good to us sitting behind bars.

If it doesn't work, don't do it. It is your responsibility to engage in activism that is effective. Doing whatever you want or whatever makes you feel good isn't going to cut it.  It is a waste of time, money, and humanpower.

P.S. If you are ever asked to donate to support the obvious and predictable consequences of "direct action," give your money to a vegan sanctuary instead. Those animals could directly benefit from your money.  Don't give it to activists who knowingly engaged bad activism being fully aware of the consequences and ineffectiveness.

Note:  I do not in any way support or condone the prison-industrial complex. The vast majority of prisoners are incarcerated due to state violence, not because of individual shortcomings, evil, or legitimate crime. My concern is with the Nonhuman Animal rights movement's celebration of ineffective advocacy that is doomed to fail and drain our resources.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Animal Exploitation in Hobbit Production: A Socialist Critique



Besides overseeing the creation of a remarkably dull film, from a Marxist-animalist perspective, the capitalists behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey1 were unusually brutal on their non-human workforce. As many as 27 animals involved in shooting — including horses, chickens, goats and sheep — were killed.

Based on a section of a 1937 novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film was released in 2012 and made over one billion dollars at the box office worldwide. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was only the 15th film, not accounting for inflation, to pass this milestone.

Like the human actors, grips, and camera operators, the animals involved in the movie's production were laboring toward the creation of a commodity, an astoundingly profitable blockbuster. Unlike their human proletarian counterparts, however, the animals did not sell their labor power to Warner Bros. or related subcontractors under the pretense of free choice. Rather, the animals themselves were commodities. Their labor power was sold all at once, unlike the proletarians’ whose labor power was sold to the studio or others in increments.

According to an Associated Press story, animal wranglers involved in the film "said the farm near Wellington was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing. They said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros., but it continued to be used."




Animal wrangler Chris Langridge told the news agency that a horse named Rainbow had broken his back and was given a lethal injection as a result. Wrangler Johnny Smythe said a horse named Claire died after falling from a bluff. According to the Associated Press, "the six goats and six sheep [Smythe] buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions."
So why weren't these hazards addressed? One must assume that the capitalists in charge of production hoped to increase the animals' surplus labor. Surplus labor is work over and above what's called 'necessary labor,' that used to create the equivalent of the animals' livelihood. The movie-industry capitalists might have achieved this by making the animals produce absolute surplus value, which is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time laborers work in a particular period. 

But in disregarding their animals' welfare, these capitalists were making their non-human labor force create relative surplus value. Relative surplus value is produced by the lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labor in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labor. So in choosing not to spend the money needed to create a safe environment, the capitalists were extracting a greater percentage of profits from their animals.

Ultimately, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the American Humane Society gave Peter Jackson's fantasy epic a passing grade on its treatment of animals, stating that the organization had "monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.” This despite the fact Smythe tried to get the AHA to investigate the animal deaths incurred by production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Again, according to The Hollywood Reporter, "An AHA official told him the lack of physical evidence would make it difficult to investigate. When he replied that he had buried the animals himself and knew their location, the official then told him that because the deaths had taken place during the hiatus [in filming], the AHA had no jurisdiction."


Editor Notes
1.  This film is also remarkably sexist in a graphic over-reliance on male violence that far surpasses the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Additionally, the film seriously fails the Bechdel test (at least the first installment) with only one woman receiving any screen time (the elf queen for about 5 minutes of the 3 hour long film).



Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the founder of SpeciesandClass.com and is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his personal website by clicking here

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Social Psychology of Speciesism Lecture Series

For those new to social psychology, I've published an introductory four part hour long lecture on the science of human-nonhuman relationships. In the first lecture, I make a case for the inclusion of Nonhuman Animal issues in the social sciences. In the second lecture, I cover a few important social psychological concepts that help explain institutionalized violence against animals. In the final piece, I criticize the use of other animals as research subjects in the discipline.


Lecture 1: Social Psychology of Human & Nonhuman Relationships (Part 1) 



Exploring how social psychology relates to nonhuman species and the role of human supremacy in otherizing nonhuman species.

Lecture 1: Social Psychology of Human & Nonhuman Relationships (Part 2) 




Lecture 2: The Social Psychology of Speciesism 


Exploring various theories of social psychology to explain the institutionalized violence against other animals.

Lecture 3: Animal Research in Social Psychology 


Exploring the ethical problems with using animals in social psychologial experimentation, highlighting prominent research, and suggesting alternatives.