ANIMAL SPECTRUM: Domination, Domestication and Slavery

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

The above statement, of course, assumes that if animals are treated well, humans will be treated very well.

Big and complex food for thought in an article I just read. And unlike the rapid slaughter at the assembly line at a slaughterhouse, I actually can’t quickly process what is being said, or even conclude what I perceive as the article’s merits and faults, let alone if there are inaccuracies in the facts. Nonetheless, it made me twist my thinking cap…

So I’ll just briefly describe the author’s point, and cut and paste a few quotes. It’s an article from 2007 by a guy named Jason Hribal—whom I don’t know anything about. He’s the author of a recent book (2011) called Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance. The book’s thesis is that attacks and escapes by animals in captivity are often done deliberately and with intent—by the animals.

In the article, called Fear of an Animal Planet, Hribal describes, among other things, the very sensitive idea of a relationship between slavery (of humans) and the domination (or slavery) of animals. That’s controversial point number one. You can read the article to see if any of it resounds with you.

An excerpt:

In [Frederick] Douglass‘s descriptions about his days trapped in slavery, he often made direct comparisons between the treatment and use of other animals and that of himself…

“I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be broken, so was I; Convey was to break me, I was to break them; break and be broken—such is life.”

But Douglass was not alone in making these recognitions of commonality, as such thinking was routine among African-American slaves.

But Douglass and most other abolitionists also didn’t go so far as to include, in their outrage, the ‘slavery’ of animals. Hribal describes a few who did:

The 17th century Philadelphian Quakers [actually 17th and 18th century]—Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, John Woolman, and Joshua Evans—were not just radicals who advocated for the abolition of slavery. They were not just the ones who influenced Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and John Wesley. Rather they were the radicals who advocated against the oppression and exploitation of all animals: human, pig, horse, and dog.

Their actions took the form of writing pamphlets, preaching in the Southern States, schooling African-American children, using means of civil disobedience, boycotting of products, campaigning for the poor waged-laborer, refusing to eat the flesh of another creature, and refusing to ride in a horse-operated carriage. Indeed, named after the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras [an early ‘western’ vegetarian, supposedly influenced in India], these Pythagorean Quakers were part of a larger movement, one that stretched from the English Revolution through the French Revolution.

See the Bloodless Revolution for more of these ideas.

Hribal includes present-day (and deceased) activist John Africa (MOVE) with the above. I don’t know much about John Africa and the MOVE movement, but awhile I saw this material at the Philadelphia Enquirer on MOVE and the FBI actions.

For Hribal, if I understand Hribal’s last paragraph, Africa paid for this belief with his life when in 1985, the FBI dropped a bomb on Africa’s house and killed eleven humans and a lot of dogs and cats:

[Frederick] Douglass and [John] Africa did not fear an animal planet, for both fully understood the systemic nature of social oppression and economic exploitation. And, in the case of John Africa, one of them did something about it. These are lessons to be learned.

Hribal also talks about the role of blood-sports (blood-sports being sports that include violence to animals):

There are two primary purposes to the blood-sports of dog-fighting, bull-baiting, and cock-fighting [the second is money]. The first was defined succinctly by the past British War Minister, William Windham:

“When the spirit of a proud people is aroused by a call upon their honor, or even by a favorite war-cry, it is not difficult to bring them en masse in action; but no such armies could have been raised in such a space of time, had not the arts of military life been much cultivated throughout the land.”

Blood-sports, Windham defended and endorsed, functioned as to promote killing in the service of the state.

Themistocles, the Greek politician, once staged a cock-fight on the eve of war with Xerxes as a direct means to instill a sanguinary thirst among his troops.

In the film documentary, Winter Soldier, a Vietnam combat veteran described to the audience the final act of basic training. The commander appeared before his squad with a bunny, and proceeded to tear off the rabbit’s head and gut the creature.

Indeed, the dog-fighter Michael Vick was not so much a victim of societal violence, as the cause of it. Blood-sports lead to war—not the other way around.

This begs many questions. For example:

1) Is war as necessary as it appears to be by its plentiful use?

2) Could war in fact even be undertaken without an ongoing method or means to rile up a willingness to kill a so-called enemy?

Finally, Hribal writes:

There is a growing consensus among the scholars of slave-studies that the origins of human slavery itself can be traced to the domestication of cattle, pigs, and horses. In other words, the enslavement of humans first appeared in those ancient societies where other animals had recently been domesticated. Slavery begets slavery. Would have either Frederick Douglass or John Africa been surprised or offended to learn of this? No.

This, of course, begs all kinds of questions about who we are as human beings.

Like I said, serious (and seriously controversial) food for thought. And for some people, when all else has been taken, thought is the last stand for freedom—and perhaps the biggest one.

Love more,



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