Humans Are Animals»

By David Olivier

This text was initially published in issue #9 of Cahiers antispécistes (1994).

It had been written in response to a letter received by the Cahiers antispécistes from the group AIDA, letter that can be read (in French) here.

An English translation by Pierre Querinci appeared in the British journal Arkangel (PDF here). The present text is a revised edition of that translation.

Five years ago when I wrote the article "La moindre des choses",*in the booklet Nous ne mangeons pas de viande pour ne pas tuer d'animaux1 I did not expect my readers to get the impression that I no longer cared about fighting racism and sexism. The recent letter** sent by the group AIDA2 to the Cahiers antispécistes asks me to return to that article and read it again. This I have done; and I still don't see how I can have been so seriously misunderstood. However, it has also reminded me of a certain mindset that I had at the time, a mindset that may well be close to the way certain members of AIDA feel today and that may explain in part their attitude. This is the starting point from which flow the following reflections.

In that 1989 article, I wrote: "I have spent a large part of my life fighting at their sides against racism and sexism, against the oppression of Kanaks and so on. I should still like to feel motivated to do so today, but I cannot. There is one small point that keeps nagging at my mind (...): how can they demonstrate against a murder when they kill so easily each day? (...)"

This passage, which seems to have been misunderstood by those who criticize us, was intended to express not an indifference towards the struggles against racism, sexism etc., but rather a tension between, on the one hand, my wish to participate in them and, on the other hand, my feelings towards the persons with whom I would be involved. Faced with the enormity of the violence inherent to the oppression of non-humans I find it difficult, as others do, not to be put off, sickened even, by the attitude of those who devote themselves, often generously but so exclusively, to human problems while at the same time deliberately and gratuitously participating in the butchery of non-humans.3

This profound uneasiness easily translates into hostility and even hatred towards meat-eaters. These negative feelings themselves warrant criticism; a point I return to below. This can go even farther. For a long time, when first I became an animal rights activist, I was no longer able to feel any empathy, not only towards meat-eaters campaigning against human suffering, but also towards human suffering itself, towards the suffering with which campaigners of recognized causes are routinely concerned. I felt only annoyance or hostility, or at best indifference, towards children with muscular dystrophy, victims of famine, exploited workers, deported immigrants and raped women, and this not because these humans eat meat like everyone else, but simply because they were, being humans, the objects of the selective sympathy of "right-thinking" persons. Every human being, however unfortunate he or she might be, I saw only as part of the globally privileged category to which the human species belongs.

This is what I felt, but it is not what I thought. I spite of what I felt I never thought that human suffering deserved indifference or hostility; this kind of resentment - as should be immediately obvious to all - is absurd and unjust. An individual may well be part of a globally privileged category without thereby necessarily being privileged him or herself. Even if s/he is, the privilege is of necessity relative and does not render the suffering unimportant. There is always

* "The least one can do", in the booklet Nous ne mangeons pas de viande pour ne pas tuer d'animaux ("We do not eat meat so as not to kill animals"; 1989). The article and most of the booklet are available (in French) on this site.

1 Collective publication (it is not my booklet), published by éditions Y. Bonnardel, 1989, available for 18 F postage paid at the address of the Cahiers antispécistes lyonnais.

** «AIDA et l'apolitisme», right-of-answer letter by the association AIDA published in the Cahiers antispécistes #9 (1994).

2 When in this article I mention the members of AIDA who authored the above answer, I am thinking of Éric and Christophe Moreau. If I am wrong, I apologize, but I do have reasons. If i am right, I don't understand that they are so shy about it. It is also possible that in this article I attribute to these authors, whoever they are, feelings and ideas that are not really theirs. They are in any case feelings and ideas that are, I believe, widespread enough among animalist activists to justify discussing them.

Also, a misunderstanding gave the Moreau brothers the impression that we were calling them fascists. Someone answered the question of whether he would accept to work with the Moreau answered in substance "I don't work with fascists", intending to express that since AIDA accepts to work with fascists, working with AIDA might lead him to work with fascists. So let us be clear that despite our disagreements, we have no reason to call the Moreau themselves fascists.

3 The waters are muddied somewhat by the fact that there are also many humanists who really do not care about the fate of human beings - their fate being of less concern to them than upholding the species barrier as a moral barrier. It is such people who ask, as F. Reynaert did in Le Nouvel Observateur (29-10-1992, p.18) "How far shall we reach in negating humanity if, today, we demand for cattle the same solicitude as was granted yesterday to Blacks?"