By Camille Marino and Aran Mathai (Simulposted with Negotiation Is Over!)
The philosophy of “Total Liberation” teaches that human rights equal animal rights, and that Animal Liberation activists need to build an inclusive liberation movement by aligning ourselves with the left to the exclusion of all other political affiliations. In theory, this may seem to make sense, but in reality in a world where 99% of the human race exploit non-human animals this is not only counterintuitive but grossly offensive. How can the issues of human beings that take part in the holocaust of over 50 billion animals a year for food alone be equal to those of innocent animals? How can we consider the interests of a single species (humans) equal to the 200 plant and animal species we cause to become extinct each day?
Furthermore, total liberation fails to account for the fact that, in practice, even the most oppressed human being still enjoys a birthright of privilege over all other species (at least theoretically). Admittedly, there is a commonality of oppression that underlies the exploitation of all animals, human and nonhuman alike. But we must acknowledge that often human rights improvements (for humans that have not relinquished their privilege over other animals) increase the oppression of non-human animals. For example, economic improvements lead to increases in factory farming, meat consumption, animal labs, etc. Therefore in many cases, at this stage, human and non-human interests do not align.
Additionally, human interests are always put above non-human rights within the Total Liberation community. No pressure is put upon the women’s rights, anti-racism, or any other social justice movements to have a requirement that participants reject species oppression but participants with the animal rights movement, according to Total Liberation, must not be racist, sexist, etc. and if they are must be excluded from helping animals.
We have few colleagues who vehemently disagree with our views on this issue because most who disagree will not speak to or work with us. It is unclear whether this is a function of totalitarianism or simple childishness. But it speaks to the fact that Total Liberation which espouses building a multi-faceted liberation movement is anything but inclusive. “You would work with racists? Fascists? Republicans? … Then I can’t work with you!” This is the prevalent mentality of those who preach total liberation. These people would have to reject the accomplishments of many, including one of the pioneers of radical environmentalism, Edward Abbey, because he was an open racist and sexist. We posit that it is fundamental in establishing a formidable Animal Liberation movement that we need to throw our moral and political checklists away and focus on what is in the best interest of the animals. It is wholly congruent to celebrate Edward Abbey as an activist and not condone his politics. Further, some of the most prominent proponents of total liberation are closet racists, sexists, and homophobes espousing sheer hypocrisy. So who is allowed, then, to advocate for Animal Liberation?
Furthermore, our role as animal rights activists should be to directly advocate for non-human animals giving their interests a voice (as they have none in human society), rather than to represent our own ideologies and interests. Using the animals for our own political platform is an abuse of our human privilege and shows we have not truly relinquished it.
In its infancy, NIO was mentored by one of the gurus of total liberation. They fed vegan food to the homeless, got in on the ground floor of the Occupy movement to promote veganism, worked with anarchists, anti-capitalists, immigration activists, and others. In each and every instance, their energies were diverted away from the animals to promote the interests of these privileged human groups and there was zero reciprocity. In practice, total liberation is groundless.
In reality human beings do not take action for animals because you help their cause, they take action for animals because they are moved by the suffering of animals (or they do not take action because they are not so moved). The Total Liberation philosophy fails to understand that some individuals care about the suffering of non-human animals and others do not. It does not matter how nice or nasty animal advocates are, how much they work for human rights or how anti-racist, feminist or LGBTQ-friendly they are or not – people either care about other animals or they don’t.
We also need to recognize that throughout history, alliances between animal activists and human-issue groups arose generically, served a purpose, and then dissipated. For example, when Camille served time as a political prisoner in Detroit she and a black sovereign, Ebony Malcom, initiated a coordinated hunger strike at the institutions where they were respectively incarcerated. This hunger strike brought together people of color, whites, vegans, non-vegan, religious and athiests, prisoners and prison staff, in a showing of solidarity and resistance. They stood together as one against the oppression of all animals against a system of oppression. It was empowering. They were one. Some remained vegan and several Animal Liberation activists were recruited from that exercise. But it was a moment in time. It served a purpose and ended.
We are very curious to learn about any other instances where the philosophy of Total Liberation was employed in the real world for the benefit of the animals rather than to their detriment by promoting their oppressors. We would applaud any practical application of this philosophy. But we haven’t seen it. We have only seen Total Liberationists exclude all who challenge their comfortable theory.
We do not oppose alliances between human and non-human rights causes on specific projects where our goals happen to aline. These alliances are not based on our own ideologies on human issues but rather whatever is beneficial to non-humans at any given time, that is our only legitimate role as animal advocates.
This is not to say that those who challenge Total Liberation don’t have political inclinations of our own or don’t care about human rights. Human beings are dimensional. It is simply that the interests of the animals are paramount and all else pales in comparison.
When a liberator opens a holocaust victim’s cage, the animal does not check the political affiliation of the freedom fighter before he steps out of his shackles and nor should we.