We are pleased to inform you that in 20 days, Stavros Karageorgakis’ new book, titled “Animals in the tentacles of human ethics” (Eutopia publications), will be available in bookstores. The central distribution of the book will be in Katalahou.
Stavros Karageorgakis has a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology and he teaches the Environmental Philosophy course in the postgraduate program “Specialization in Environmental Education” of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His articles have been published in collective volumes, magazines and newspapers.He has also translated, among others, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Jane Goodall’s In The Shadow of Man. He is the editor of the collective volume “Animals and Ethics”. He is a member of the Pan-Hellenic Teachers Association of Environmental Education (PEEKPE) and he had been for a decade a representative of the International Society for Environmental Ethics in Greece. He serves as a teacher in secondary education.
Another of his books worth reading is “Anarchism and Ecology“.
We have the honour to present you two excerpts from his new book, the ones that we have distinguished and which express us the most:
The meat-eaters believe that none of the new movements for rights can’t actually threaten their supremacy. Their weapons are biology and global capitalism. They consider humans to be omnivorous by nature and therefore meat-eaters. The question, of course, whether humans are by nature omnivorous, has absolutely no significance for us today. Humans constantly modify the conditions in which they live. They transform nature, not only the surrounding environment, but also themselves. There is no point in discussing how much meat-eating has fuelled human evolution, whether human canine teeth are sarcophagus or herbivorous. The point is that humans today have reached a cultural level where they can make choices that did not exist when they lived in caves. Moreover, it is an oxymoron when we hear from some people doing two things at the same time: to invoke, on one hand, their “animal nature” and the need to eat meat and on the other, to invoke human superiority over other animals because of their cultural development. So, they must choose: do they want to be wild carnivorous animals with bloody nails and teeth or cult dandies?
In this book the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Obviously we are animals, no matter how religions tried to conceal it, in vain. At the same time, though, we have developed our culture to such an extent that we can choose not to use violence and not to exploit other animal species. In a world with enormous variety of nutritional choices without the use of animal ingredients, with animal-free education, with medical models quite advanced (perhaps not in such extent, but certainly with the lure to better efficiency in the case of using volunteer human subjects experiments), with rich and fertile leisure choices without the exploitation of animals, in a world like that, the non-respect for non-human animals is a cultural setback.
I have been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, occasionally eating cheese, and only recently I embraced veganism. All these years I was aware that our most righteous attitude towards non-human animals was veganism, that is, complete abstinence from animal products, since it is not only the animals intended for slaughter that suffer but also animals used, for example, for dairy products. Even the choice of free-range vegetarian products is not the best moral choice, since animals, in one way or another, are eventually exploited, even if they do not suffer during their lifetime. The ultimate goal, which is their meat, milk or eggs, makes the whole process exploitative and anthropocentric.
My excuse for not choosing veganism was a practical matter in the previous years, since dietary choices were barely any, in everyday life. But nowadays, we cannot have this excuse, since vegan choices are extremely adequate and someone can be vegan, without spending all day thinking about where to find something to cook. In addition, there are many vegan options for more than just nutrition issues, such as clothing, cleaning, etc. In fact, in many of these options, we have the accessibility to fair trade products, avoiding human exploitation as well. However, in no case I don’t blame those who have not yet dared to take the next step or reach the final stage of veganism. Whatever step they have taken in their personal course to end the exploitation of the animals, small or big, is undoubtedly a success and I consider all these people to be members of the movement for the liberation of animals.
In our path, though, and in our struggle for the ethical treatment of animals, we should never forget the violence that our fellow human beings suffer. The violence people receive at home, at school, at work, on the streets. And if we want to be part of a social liberation movement, such as that of animal rights, we must at the same time fight for the end of this violence as well. And if we want to stop discrimination and racism at the expense of non-human animals, we must at the same time fight to end all discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality and physical abilities.
The case of animals as a political issue
Ecofeminists believe that the exploitation of women by men is equivalent to the exploitation that nature has suffered by humans. It can be said that the exploitation of workers by capitalism is similar to the exploitation of animals by humans. In fact, Bryan Dominic concluded that it would be “absurd to think that a society that oppresses non-human animals can become capable of becoming a society that will not oppress people“.
Peterson wrote on the same issue:
“Throughout the history of our course as a dominant species, animal opression from our part has been used as a model and foundation for the opression of one another. The process is revealed in the study of human history: first people exploit and slaughter animals; then they treat other people as animals and do the same to them.”
I’m not sure if the course is as Paterson describes, whether the oppression of non-human animals preceded and served as a model for the oppression of people. What I’m sure of though is that in the evolution of human history the role of dominion, hierarchy and power was and still is extremely important. Murray Bookchin, in many of his works, highlighted this element: “The idea that man’s purpose is to dominate nature stems from man’s dominance over man and perhaps even earlier, from man’s dominance over woman and the dominance of the oldest on the younger.” Bookchin believes that man first turned against his fellow man and then against nature. The order is different from that of Paterson, and here we have the whole nature instead of just the animals. The essence, nevertheless, remains the same that the dominant tendency of human marks its course and it is something that needs to be changed.
So, we understand that, even today, a society that does not exploit animals can very well continue to exploit people. Even if we managed to build a vegan society, it is not at all obvious that other economic activities or social relations would not be oppressive. There may be, for example, farms with slaves or workers working as slaves.
It is also interesting to look at the class characteristics of society through the exploitation of animals. In rural societies, “productive” animals were a capital, and in some cases they were used even as an exchange form, since they could buy other products directly. Whoever had the most animals was the richest of the village. Also, in Britain, hunting was only allowed to noble and not to poor farmers. Even today, the purchase of exotic species or dogs of rare and expensive breed is a sign of social and economic prestige. Specifically for the meat-eating issue, meat was once considered as the food of the privileged, when its purchase required plenty of money.
Today, of course, because of the industrial animal farming, meat is one of the cheapest foods, something which the capital also uses as an alibi for the improvement of the living standard of workers. This, of course, cannot cast off the use of meat as a commercial fetish, a product promoted stripped-down from the pre-production process, which presupposes both the exploitation of workers as well as the animals themselves.
Addressing the issue of animals as a political problem is rare in the texts of the Animal Ethics philosophers. Yet, there are some exceptions, which have begun to form academically a field of political philosophy that has been proposed to be called “animal political philosophy “. It would be wrong, of course, to not remember that the politicization of the issue has taken place in the past. The champion of the Greek socialist movement, Plato Drakoulis, fervently supported vegetarianism. In the very first lines of his book Hygiene and Ethics he quoted:
“The radical change of our eating habits is a matter of urgency, as well as the radical change in the way in which social wealth is circulated. Each action of ours is unique to the moral and spiritual progress of humanity. This purpose, however, is constantly stumbling over dietary and economic barbarity. “
The ecofeminists are again the ones that originally thought and contributed to the politicization of the animal issue. The parallelism they made between the oppression of women and the abuse of nature, has contributed to the radicalization of environmental philosophy. After all, ecofeminists also stress the issue of environmental sexism today, since women are more vulnerable to the environmental crisis. This means that women suffer more severely from the consequences of the climate crisis, since in areas affected, for example, by droughts or floods, it is even harder for them than men to find work, or in natural disasters, the majority of the victims are women because of their efforts to save the children when their husbands are at work.
Apart from the issue of gender, another political aspect of the animal issue is racism. Many times, when discussing our dominant and exploitative attitude towards animals, we forget to mention that the reference to human species is often a reference to white people, since during the racist past of Western civilization, white people were considered human beings whereas black people were considered animals. However, while a contemporary radical liberation movement should embrace the animal issue and the race issue, racism is rooted even in the movement of veganism. Jennifer Polish argues that we can see aspects of white superiority even in large organizations campaigns and calls for a veganism that will have pure anti-racist features. Indeed, if we look at mainstream organizations’ campaigns, we see that the pattern they want to impose is the one of the western white healthy vegan. The political aspect of the animal issue has also been highlighted by the continental philosophical tradition, with Kari Wulf’s as the most prominent representative, who shows how in the context of biopolitics some animals are considered members of our community while others as objects for brutal exploitation.
But, the most important voice in the field of philosophy which highlights the political nature of the animal issue is Steven Best. Best speaks openly about the need to fight for total liberation, that is, for the release of nonhuman animals from human bonds and humans from the bonds of capitalist and state’s sovereignty. Therefore Beast is not only addressing to the academic community, but mainly to the general public, by giving arguments to activists and, more generally, to the movement for the ethical treatment of animals.
It is worth noting that when I argue that we have to put the animal issue on the political scene, I do not mean putting it to the political parties’ agenda, but making this issue one of the main political issues that must be tackled by modern political movements.
I also think that the exclusive concern for that issue, without a wider political frame from which to rise the animals issue in relation to other ecological-economic-social issues, cannot bring about substantial changes. We too often hear, for example, the issue of meat-eating and the problem of world hunger. The animal food that is used to feed the farmed animals in industrial farms binds vast areas of land that could be used to feed the hungry people of the world. But if we stopped eating meat to ease the pain of these people, would we manage to solve the problem? “It is not enough to boycott the meat industry and hope that the resources will be redistributed to feed the hungry. We must create a system that really meets human needs, which implies a social revolution.” As Dominique points out, these problems do not have their roots in the availability of resources, but in the distribution of resources. That is, even if there were grains to feed the hungry people, it is by no means certain that they would ever reach them. For this is the basic function of the markets in order to keep the prices of products high. We know that even in Greece, when there is overproduction of agricultural products, farmers’ burn or bury huge amounts of food in order to keep prices from falling. This is how capitalism works and therefore the solution to the problem is not just to look after our choices as consumers but to act as citizens, with the ancient Greek meaning of the term, in the sense of active and politicized human.
Finally, it is not only philosophy and science that can bring the change. Sciences can give us the data, philosophy can raise our concern and reinforce us with arguments, but from then on, political mobilization, and even mass mobilization, is needed. The more we fight collectively, with understanding and faith in our vision, the sooner we will achieve the liberation of human and non-human animals. It is not enough to fight individually and every person for themselves, by simply changing their personal way of life. We need to motivate the people around us using the knowledge, the arguments and the emotional stimulation as our weapons until we achieve liberation for all the animals used by people, whether they are in farms or in laboratories or in circuses and zoos.
Stavros thank you very much for everything you’ve been teaching us, we applaud the publication of your wonderful book and we wish all the best!
If only this book could awaken people’s consciousness and inspire vegans, so that the average vegan would stop focusing outreaching others to just become vegan but to turn their attention into political activism as this action is not limited in achieving personal virtue…
Translation: Tina Petritsopoulou