Is antispeciesism revolutionary?

Par David Olivier Whittier

The text below is the presentation I gave of the talk I gave (in Frenceh) at the Estivales de la question animale 2006 (Tuesday 8 August), under the same title.

This presentation can also be found on the Estivales website, along with access to the audio recording of the talk.

4 min.

Anti-speciesism is certainly revolutionary, if by that we mean implying a profound change in human thought and action and in our visions for the world's long term futre. In my opinion, anti-speciesism also implies, in a certain sense, a progressive attitude. Lastly, one of the central themes of anti-speciesism is equality, and on this basis anti-speciesists claim a kinship, or convergence, with antiracism, antisexism and other struggles for equality and justice. These reasons, and others, seem enough to place antispeciesism among what might be called, broadly speaking, left-wing ideas.

However, I think that the conceptual constellation of left-wing ideas – which includes revolution, progressivism and equality, but also the notion of radicalism, anti-capitalism, socialism, communism and/or anarchism... – represents shackles for antispeciesism, that are is historically determined, can be questioned, and must be, I believe, rejected.

I will try to dissect the “take it or leave it” assortment of this conceptual constellation and identify what we should take and what we should leave. In particular:

— The idea of revolution, as opposed to “reformism”, implies a change that is not only far-reaching but also almost instant. Combined with the idea of radicality, it corresponds to a belief in the possibility of extirpating evil at its roots, leading to an “end of history”. At first sight, however, it would appear more plausible that far-reaching changes require much time and involve complex processes. Paradoxically, an unintended but very real effect of the revolutionary perspective is the exclusion of far-reaching changes, by the unwillingness to recognise as a problem any issue that cannot be solved in the space of a few decades; such is the issue of predation. Another perverse effect is the temptation to provoke the "Big Night" by demagogy and power grabs. The antispeciesist perspective, because it cannot hope to succeed in our own lifetimes, implies instead a desire to promote the intelligence, responsibility and freedom of human beings.

— The Left today is socialist, in the sense that it perpetuates a certain notion of the division of the world between matter and humanity; the emphasis is placed primarily, and often exclusively, on the social causes of problems, that is on those that are internal to humanity. Paradoxically, this leads today to the very common tendency to deny the very existence of material determinisms – all truth is “socially constructed”, all problems are social in origin. Antispeciesism cannot accept this division of the world, and instead sees the problems of the world as fundamentally problems of matter in general. This does not mean that we should deny the importance of the contradictions that are internal to humanity, but that we should view them as particular cases of the difficulties that affect animality; for their resolution, the central paradigm cannot be confrontation, but cooperation, even if confrontation may also be necessary. Lastly, the antispeciesist perspective means clearly distinguishing the traditional “antinaturalism” of the left, which is a form of naturalism, from antispeciesist – authentic – antinaturalism.

The perspectives of the revolutionary left – be they Marxist or anarchist – are to be criticised not only because they represent shackles for antispeciesism, but also quite simply because their promises are less and less credible. The Big Night is late at coming. This delay, and this loss of credibility, are undoubtedly the causes of many of the current shortcomings of revolutionary thought, of its dogmatic exasperation and its sterility. Today, in the face of the end of history that religious fundamentalism, revolutionaries and the consumerist “liberal” democratic model are each promising in their own ways, antispeciesism must open up a broader, more rationally founded perspective, one of open progress, an adventure with no predetermined end-point. I think that all the positive aspirations that underpin left-wing action can be preserved, perhaps with some disillusions, but certainly without disenchantment. This perspective must be founded on altruism, the rejection of naturalism and the full inclusion of human beings in the material world.

Unfortunately, we have not yet reached this point. The antispeciesist movement has so far moved between a de facto indifference to the struggles and issues of human oppression, and the mere addition of the animal question to a pre-existing array of struggles. I believe instead that antispeciesism must engage with oppressions concerning human animals too; but must do so by systematically and explicitly addressing them from its own perspective. This does not mean ignoring the experience and insights accumulated by these struggles; antispeciesism has so far been naïve and has much to learn and develop in this area. But nothing that has been built up from a humanist left-wing perspective must be taken at face value.

The need for antispeciesist voices to speak out against the oppressions suffered by human animals does not imply that we must all share the same positions on these issues; what matters is that we should have and express these positions; that we make it known that antispeciesism is about the suffering of both human and non-human animals alike, and for the same reason.