Animal exploitation is rampant in American culture today. In factory farms, shelters, zoos, puppy mills, science labs, and many other sites, animals are often treated as senseless commodities. Loving Animals argues that we owe them much better lives.
But what, precisely, does a better life look life?
While people who advocate for animal rights argue that humans should not use or own or live with animals, and people who believe in animal welfare believe we need to extend charity to the animal world, Loving Animals begins in a different place. It uses the emotional bond we feel for many animals as the starting point for social ethics and political advocacy.
Using connections with nonhuman animals as my starting point, Loving Animals maps a territory between current oppressive practices toward animals, and the abolitionist policy associated with many animal rights agendas.
I argue that increased cultural representation of the human/animal connection can function to recruit more people to animal advocacy and operate as a guidepost for the kind of social change animals require. I suggest that through sustained relationships with humans, animals become their own advocates through the stories we tell of living with and loving them. Rather than shy away from these emotional attachments, I argue that animal advocacy critically depends on them.
Loving Animals can be read on three different levels.
At the most abstract level, it is an indictment of the application of analytical philosophy to the world of animals. The abolitionist wing of the animal rights movement takes American slavery as its metaphor, and extends human emancipation into the realm of animals: animals are not ours to wear, eat, use for entertainment, or in scientific research, they say. Loving Animals rejects this perspective and locates a new type of advocacy in continental philosophy and eastern religious traditions; these traditions suggest we are dependent on and interconnected with all living things. I suggest that what we need is not to release animals from these enmeshments, but to treat them better because they are a part of us.
Second, this book takes up difficult moral questions at concrete levels in each of the five ways humans use animals: pets, food, clothing, science, and entertainment. For example: should we be breeding pets when so many die in shelters? Should we support high kill shelters or move toward “no-kill” nation? Can we eat meat and still consider ourselves to be animal advocates? Is it acceptable to keep wild animals in zoos? Or in private homes? Is it OK to use them for scientific research? In each case, using ethnography, interviews, and personal narratives, I offer tentative solutions to some of the toughest dilemmas.
Finally, the book can be read simply as a collection of stories about good relationships between humans and animals. As research for this project, I volunteered in shelters and for rescue organizations, worked on small farms and in sanctuaries, and interviewed many people who live with or use animals in a variety of settings and ways. As a result of all this fieldwork, the bulk of the book is constituted by interesting stories of complex relationships between humans and other animals.
I have spent my career studying the theories and practices of social movements, such as feminism and lgbt liberation. In every case, transformation in the emotional realm has been critical. Loving Animals uses the lessons learned from other social movements to argue for increased attention to affective connections.
When we look at the way the world has changed for women and gays over the last fifty years, for example, the greatest force in that change took place in the realm of public attitudes; Loving Animals argues that a similar shift must take place in relation to animals.
Instead of treating pets as a side issue in animal advocacy, the book begins with the affective connection we have for the animals who are closest to our hearts, and uses those connections to shift cultural attitudes about many different kinds of animals.
In many ways, people are more concerned about and connected with animals than ever. The $60 billion pet industry is really just the beginning of this phenomenon; consider, also, serious public concern with the impending extinction of many beloved species such as tigers, polar bears, and gorillas. Or the wildly popular free-range, humane meat movement that grants food animals a full, natural life on pasture.
The general public seems more interested in and concerned about animals than ever before in our history. But while animals themselves have captured the interest of the general public, the animal rights movement has often left people cold.
In my research for this book, I attended many animal rights conferences and participated in countless meetings, email lists, and websites of the movement.
In virtually every setting, I encountered newcomers who initially show up because they love animals. They came because they love animals, and were shocked once they got there to find that the world of animal rights does not reflect this experience of animal love.
Newcomers want to join a movement that shares their passion, but instead are often disappointed to find that there is little room for animal-love there. The world they encounter in animal rights is not a world centered on connection with animals. Rather, it’s a world full of rules and predetermined membership criteria that many neither understand nor assent to.
In the last fifty years, while many other marginalized groups have experienced better conditions in American culture, the plight of animals has gotten much worse. They are increasingly treated as disposable commodities. Whether in factory farms, puppy mills, or numerous other animal industries, the subjectivity of animal life is erased. This treatment completely overlooks their own emotional and affective lives, and their significant contributions to humankind.
The animal rights movement solves this problem by liberating them from human use altogether. I suggest instead that we need to pay greater attention to their emotional and affective worldviews; we need to connect with and understand them better; we need to view them as fellow travelers and give them good lives in return for their contributions.
The world would be diminished without domesticated animals, and we need to treat them with the respect they deserve. The best way to combat the commoditization of their lives is to connect with them. Knowing them more fully will prompt us to treat them better.
I expect the most controversial aspect of this book may be my acceptance of local, pastured, small farm meat.
Part of the reason animal advocacy is so marginalized in American culture today, I think, is that most philosophers and organizations demand that animal advocates be vegan.
By my lights, that is just not going to happen anytime soon.
Humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years, and for most of that time, we have done so compassionately and sustainably. It’s only in the last fifty years that agribusiness has made suffering the norm for farm animals.
The general public is not going to convert to veganism in the near future, but a mass movement for a more connected way of eating is happening in the form of pastured meat. We can tap that for better lives for animals.
My research on this issue brought me to the small farm movement, where animals are given longer, healthier, more natural lives. While the cost of this meat is higher, I argue that farm animals deserve such treatment if they are ultimately asked to sacrifice their lives to become our food.
Buying meat, eggs, and dairy from local farms where animals have long, happy, and natural lives on pasture is animal centered, I believe, even if we kill them for their meat eventually.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe eliminating domestic farm animals from our world does not really serve their best interests.
Think about it: our own lives are not solely centered on our bodies: we humans write books, make art, build buildings, have children so part of us lives on and changes the world, even if in a future we are not present for.
Thinking of the fullness of life only in terms of our immediate bodies is shortsighted. Humans and farm animals have spent 10,000 years building a symbiotic relationship that, I believe, is good for them, and good for us. They get to spend days walking in sunshine, eating good food, mating, loving their young, enjoying the beautiful earth. We give them the chance to have this life, we pay for the land and the grass and the water, and eventually we get to eat their eggs, milk, cheese, and meat. It’s not a bad deal for either side.
The idea that our life’s meaning is only contained in our fleshly bodies is dangerous and untrue. If I were a pig or cow or chicken, I would rather be raised on a small farm and keep my kinfolk alive in this world than be banished from the earth altogether (as the vegan agenda advocates.) Making animal advocacy dependent on veganism is asking for species extinction, and is the opposite of what animals (and we) really need.
Indeed, the slow food/locavore movement has made a central aspect of their program the recovery of endangered farm animal species. We used to share our earth with over three hundred different kinds of farm animals; the industrial farm system has reduced that number to under twenty species.
If I were a Redcap chicken, say, I would rather have a farmer raise me and let me proliferate, even if she is going to kill me to eat in the end. That way, my kind get to stay on this planet; in many ways, that could mean more to me than my own life. I believe species of animals want to stay here just as much as humans we do, and small farms give them that chance.
At no point in history have humans used animals like we’re using them in America today. Factory farms crank out almost three pounds of meat per person per day from 20 billion food animals who function literally as flesh machines; thousands of breeders offer inbred, often aggressive, damaged pets for sale on the internet and in pet stores everyday; the black market in exotic animals from chimps to tigers to wolves crosses through zoos, laboratories, and collectors of all sorts; and the number of animals maimed and killed for the testing of products and pharmaceuticals is almost double what it was twenty years ago. In terms of sheer numbers alone, the situation for animals in America today has never been direr.
However, I don’t believe that the animal rights movement has really made significant improvements in these conditions.
It does not claim membership anywhere near other contemporary social movements such as feminism or gay rights; indeed, many people—even many animal lovers—have a hard time fitting into many animal rights organizations, and an even harder time embracing the radical abolitionist philosophy espoused by many animal rights theorists.
Most people are unwilling to embrace this perspective because they believe that animals have been and will continue to be enmeshed in human culture.
Loving Animals argues that what animals need is not complete liberation from human culture and use, but rather balanced relationships with humans built on reciprocity and emotional connection.
Because such balance is difficult to address in traditional tools of rationality, these types of relationships are most easily displayed through stories.
Thus, Loving Animals continually oscillates between narrative and critique, between showing and telling.
Stories about human/ animal connection offer us new ways to think about ourselves, other animals, and the entire world around us; sharing and circulating these narratives gives us a new foundation for ethics that, I believe, could transform the world for animals.
Kathy Rudy is an Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Duke University. She holds an M.Div. and Ph.D. in Theological Ethics. Prior to writing about animals, she authored two books and many articles on sexuality and reproduction, and focused her attention on feminism and lgbt liberation. Her work has consistently circled around the ways that culture, affect, and emotion participate in and perform the work of justice. Loving Animals, featured on Rorotoko, moves those theories into the more-than-human world.