Book Review: Beasts of Burden by Sunaura Taylor

This book was an eye-opener. This is, so far, the only Disability Liberation work I’ve ever read. I brought a lot of biases and assumptions to the table and am leaving with a greater understanding of my ableism–including within how I conducted my animal rights advocacy. Ableism and carnism and patriarchy and racism and sexism and speciesism are linked. I knew that. But they are linked in such a way that even fighting against one can undermine the fight against another. It will take careful practice and awareness on my part moving forward.

I’ve already posted once about this book with some quotes I archived here so that I can refer back to them. Below are some more of my favorite quotes from this book.

One thing that Taylor did well–the main thing I got out of this book personally–is what ableism is and how to spot it in my actions and in the world around me. When she recounts her interaction with Peter Singer and he asks her (and others) “If you could take a pill that would cure you, wouldn’t you?” and how some disabled persons would say no… That shocked me. That made me stop and think. This book made me realize that the question itself is wrong to be asked. That’s like asking a black person “If you could turn white, would you?” Or homosexual person “If you could be turned straight, wouldn’t you want that?” Or a woman “Don’t you wish you had been born a man?” It assumes that there is a “perfect” state of existence. It assumes that there is something wrong with the individual, rather than the world and that there is something wrong with the person. A person should not have to change in order to fit in. The world should be accepting of the being as they already are. If a world cannot accept someone as they are, perhaps there is something wrong with the world (news flash: there is). That is what this book taught me–what I did not already understand about disability going into it.

The only thing I thought Sunaura Taylor didn’t argue well enough to my satisfaction is her critique of those who think that many domesticated animals simply should not exist (they are pro-extinction). I am one of those. Here is a quote for more context:

“The reasoning behind an abolitionist argument for extinction is on one level very simple: if we stop bringing domesticated animals into existence, then humans won’t be able to exploit them and make them suffer. This is pretty much the opposite of Temple Grandin’s argument. Where Grandin sees animals’ ongoing existence as enough of a justification to continue to use and kill them, many animal activists see the suffering and exploitation of domesticated animals as enough of a justification for their extinction. These animal advocates believe that we have a deep responsibility to treat the animals who currently exist with compassion and dignity while they are alive, as well as a responsibility to stop breeding millions of these animals every year—after all, so many animals exist only because humans breed them. Nonetheless, at a certain point a decision will have to be made about whether remaining animals are sterilized or kept from breeding on their own.”

She states the above, and then goes on to say that this is glazing over issues. But I cannot seem to put her official stance on it in my own words. At best I think she says that we cannot see it as so black and white, because this assumes that there is something wrong with the animals and therefore those with disability; that there is something wrong with dependence and co-dependence. She does make a good case for showing that dependence does not mean weakness, etc. But I don’t think that everyone who calls for farm animals’ immediate steps toward peaceful extinction actually argues from that “they’re dependent, so they must go” place as she seems to think. As an anti-natalist and supporter of VHEMT, I think that most living creatures are better off to never have lived–abled or disabled. I wish she had, maybe, used (what I will now call) her “co-evolution” argument  (that we are responsible for these domesticated animals but that calling for extinction is ableist) for something like…feral cats. Many feral cats are round up and killed because they are said to be a threat to wild bird populations, never mind that our buildings, pollution, and habitat destruction are the real threat. Instead we blame feral cats and so they are murdered. I wish she had used clearer examples like that–where we have caused a problem and are trying to fix it but fixing it in an evil way–to make her point. I can see it working better there than with the domesticated farm animals because I’m still unclear in how she thinks calling for farm animals’ peaceful extinction, at least for those animals who cannot even breed or give birth without us, is ableist. I can see how it would be for those farm animals that don’t require us for breeding. Or perhaps that is her point all along–that the definition of dependence shouldn’t encompass even those that don’t need us for breeding. As you can see, I wish she had expounded this point.

More quotes from Beasts of Burden are below.

“Dependency has been used to justify slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, colonization, and disability oppression. The language of dependency is a brilliant rhetorical tool, allowing those who use it to sound compassionate and caring while continuing to exploit those they are supposedly concerned about.

In many ways the thinking behind the humane meat movement is a philosophy built on the idea of independence. Domesticated animals and human being shave evolved together to be interdependent—animals help human beings, and we in turn help the animals—or so the argument goes… Instead a disability perspective on interdependence recognizes that we are all vulnerable and receive care (more often than not doing both at once) over meat conversation is a much-needed analysis of what it means to be accountable to beings who are vulnerable.”

 

“I agree with those who support sustainable animal farming about the horrors of factory farms snad the importance of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. But commodifying and slaughtering animals for food is not natural or righteous—even if it’s done on a small family farm or in a factory system designed to minimize cruelty. There are better ways to be humane.”

 

“People also justify it through ableist conceptions of the natural and of dependency, which suggest that there is a depoliticized thing called ‘nature’ that determines what kinds of bodies and minds are exploitable and killable, and that excuses uses those who are weaker and dependent for our own benefit. When animal commodification and slaughter is justified through ableist positions, veganism becomes a radical anti-ableist position that corporeality—socially, politically, environmentally, and in what we consume. In other words, veganism is not just about food-it is an embodied practice of challenging ableism through what we eat, wear, and use and a political position that takes justice for animals as integral to justice for disabled people… Veganism is an embodied act of resistance to objectification and exploitation across difference—a corporeal way of enacting one’s political and ethical beliefs daily.”

 

“Domesticated animals are similarly understood as utterly dependent, and unfit for the wild. Environmentalists, animal welfarists, and animal advocates have all portrayed domesticated animals as tragically, even grotesquely, dependent. Disabled people and domesticated animals are among those who have to content with society’s stereotypes about what it is to be unnatural and abnormal, as well as assumptions about the indignity of dependency. In many ways we have been presented as beasts and as burdens.”

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My favorite quotes from Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden so far:

“As UC Berkley gender and women’s studies professor and linguistics scholar Mel Y. Chen explains, ” Linguistic criteria are established prominently and immutably in humans’ terms, establishing human preeminence before the debates about linguistic placement of humans’ animal subordinates even begin.” The view that language is uniquely human is of course to our advantage.

Ableism allows us to view human abilities as unquestionably superior to animal abilities; it propels our assumptions that our own human movements, thought processes, and ways of being are always not only more sophisticated than animals’ but in fact give us value. Animals, in their inferior bestial state, can be used by us without moral concern, and those humans who have been associated with animals (people of color, women, queer people, poor people, and disabled people, among others) are also seen as less sophisticated, as having less value, and sometimes even as being less or non-human. In fact, certain abilities and capabilities are central to definitions of the human; they are thought to mark the boundaries between humanity and the rest of the animal world. In this way ableism gives shape to what and who we think of as human versus animal.

Animals consistently voice preferences and ask for freedom. They speak to us every day when they cry out in pain or try to move away from our prods, electrodes, knives, and stun guns. Animals tell us constantly that they want out of their cages, that they want to be reunited with their families, or that they don’t want to walk down the kill chute. Animals express themselves all the time, and many of us know it. If we didn’t, factory farms and slaughterhouses would not be designed to constrain any choices an animal might have. We deliberately have to choose not to hear when the lobster bangs on the walls from inside a pot of boiling water or when the hen who is past her egg-laying prime struggles against the human hands that enclose her legs around her neck. We have to choose not to recognize the preference expressed when the fish spasms and gasps for oxygen in her last few minutes alive. Considering animals voiceless betrays an ableist assumption of what counts as having a voice–an assumption that many disabled and nondisabled people alike often make about animals…

Denying someone [else] justice just because you do not yet have your own is never a good idea. I am also convinced we cannot have disability liberation without animal liberation–they are intimately tied together. What if, rather than dismissing or disassociating for the struggle of animals, we embraced what political theorist Claire Jean Kim calls an ‘ethics of avowal,’ a recognition that oppressions are linked, and that we can be ‘open in meaningful and sustained way to the suffering and claims of other subordinated groups, even or perhaps especially in the course of political battle’? Compassion is not a limited resource

It is difficult to ascertain what role these articles play in marginalizing the vegetarian experience when there are so many more pressing issues that confront individuals who might otherwise choose to try to become vegetarian or vegan, such as the lack of healthy affordable food in low-income neighborhoods, often largely inhabited by people of color, and a government that subsidizes and promotes animal and sugar-heavy diets over ones with vegetables and fruits. yet rather than focus on these series structural barriers, many articles on vegetarianism and veganism often present the challenge of avoiding meat and animal products as challenge to one’s very own normalcy and acceptability…

It’s not that there are no challenges to becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but in the media, including authors of popular books on food and food politics, contribute to the ‘enfreakment’ of what is so often patronizingly referred to as the vegan or vegetarian ‘lifestyle.’ But again, the marginalization of those who care about animals is nothing new. Diane Beers writes in her book For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States that ‘several late nineteenth-century physicians concocted a diagnosable for of mental illness to explain such bizarre behavior. Sadly, they pronounced these misguided souls suffered from “zoophilpsychosis.”‘ As Beers describes, zoophilpsychosis (an excessive concern for animals) was more likely to be diagnosed in women, who were understood to be ‘particularly susceptible to the malady.’ As the early animal advocacy movement in Britain and the United States was largely made up of women, such charges worked to uphold the subjugation both of women and of nonhuman animals.”

On Animal Sacrifice:

Similarly, ritual animal sacrifice, which may at first seem unrelated to interspecies sexual assault, is not unrelated. Ritual transference of transgressions to a sacrificial animal victim is, in my view, a kind of rape. Just as nonhuman animals are deemed fit receptacles for the depositing of human diseases in biomedical research’s quest for health, so they are deemed suitable receptacles for human sin in the quest for spiritual cleansing. In both cases, the animal victim is made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity, even a willing participant in being used as a depository for human diseases, sins and vices. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their bodies, identity and will. A nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect herself from being besmirched, as when she is represented by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of human spiritual filth.

Read the rest.

Book Review: Poetic Animals and Animal Souls

 

This book is a DNF for me and I’m sorry for it. It’s me. Not this book. Also, it’s an inter-library loan with a due date so I didn’t feel I could devote enough time to it.

I got about halfway through — and it is a skinny book — but realized I don’t have the mind enough to finish it. It is a struggle for me to digest most poetry, and being unfamiliar with a lot of the poets and poems Malamud highlights I just didn’t feel like I could critique this book properly.

Although, I did like what I did read — I did learn some things. I love Malamud’s approach and his observations.  Here’s some quotes that I took away from the book:

“As an example of how people relate to animals across this frontier, in which solely human consideration mediate the encounter, consider the logic underlying the exhibition of captive animals in zoos. Keepers remind spectators that many of the animals on display cannot survive in their native environments, which have been desecrated; thus zoos are supposed to testify to our society’s benevolent concern for these animals taken into protective custody in a small, artificial compound far from their natural habitat…How exactly did we the animals’ habitats get destroyed? What cultural dynamics connect the destruction of animal habitats and the enjoyment that we reap as we bring these animals…into our ken, surrounded by souvenirs, popcorn, parking lots…”

“The disinterest in looking at bugs is probably related to the interest in looking at lions: people flock to zoos to see what we shouldn’t see — see what we’re not meant to see in our own native habitats and environs. The corollary of the craving to know animals that don’t belong in our ken of perception is the resistance to knowing the animals that do belong around us. Bugs, squirrels, pigeons: dull, low-rent attractions.”

“The more determination we exert trying to get to know animals in the way that we know the tings in our world, heedless of their own independent existence and integrity and process, the more we are disappointed by the failure to achieve this. They will defy being known in that way — and so we can either “mis-know” them: capture them, punish them, tame them, put them in cages, humiliate them, marginalize them..or, as Heaney does here, we can confront the limits of our epistemologies: we can stop our heroic march toward omniscience and unbounded experiential conquest, and pause to reflect on what it means for us to know (or try to know) animals.”

 

BOOK REVIEW: American Zoo by David Grazian

This book was a DNF for me. I skimmed to what parts I thought might hold interest for me.

But just like the people who do go to zoos take a (what I call) shallow interest in the experience (the come, they see, they go on to the next exploitation), so too does Gazian state his observations of the human reasons zoos exist. This book more so answers “why do Americans still do that?” (ie put animals in zoos). But only for a modern context. It does not answer the question “why do Americans do that” in any historically sociological way.

There is no real exploration as to if it is good or bad that we “do that.” He states horrors inflicted upon zoo animals like someone observing birds flying in the sky. Well, isn’t that interesting? Because they aren’t horrors to him.

He talks about the fact that male pandas are given Viagra and forced to watch porn, never exploring if this is a moral thing to do to pandas. He even goes so far as to call them (either all pandas or zoo pandas specifically) sexually ‘incompetent’ – as if they can’t even do the one thing they are “good” for, for us humans (make more of themselves). This presupposes that pandas are our things and that they need us to help make them more competent — as if that’s their only problem and as if they hadn’t been thriving all on their own without our help until man started killing them off and destroying their habitats. Hell, are we even sure that we didn’t create the panda from nothing?  Grazian even talks about zookeeper’s masturbation aids with just a passing, subtle comment: that’s “exactly what it sounds like.” But what does it sound like? Because to some, that sounds like rape, not something funny.

Colonialism is never explored, as far as I could tell, which are the roots of all zoos. He ends on the note that zoos have their faults, but they aren’t morally bankrupt, ignoring the fact that their AZA accreditation is not the real beef some animal rights activists have with zoos. I’m sure there were good slave owners in America too that didn’t beat their slaves and didn’t sell slaves’ children off… It is the concept of slavery that is the topic. Just like the concept of zoos should be the topic. Not what zoos think or try to do in this modern age.

At the end he mentions a book called The Zookeeper’s Wife which is a story about how a zookeeper’s wife kept Jews safe in WWII in their zoo. The sad thing is that Grazian can’t see the irony in that. The very thing/concept that created hate for Jews was the self-same hate that sticks animals in cages: an attempt to “Other” and “conquer” and “control.” Where is the sociological exploration in that?

Zoos can try and kid themselves that they are protecting animals, just like the Zookeeper’s wife can repurpose an evil concept to save Jews. But there wouldn’t be a need to repurpose anything if “the evil concept” hadn’t messed things up to begin with. That’s what animal rights activists are targeting. The concept itself.

But I guess I shouldn’t have expected that deep of an exploration, what with the subtitle of this book being “A Sociological Safari.” Safari? Because what humans do to animals is just as interesting as going on a safari? Safaris show you animals in their natural habitat. And it doesn’t seem “natural” what we’ve done to animals.

Or, if it is natural for humans to do this, I don’t think I like being human.

Book Review: Night of the Animals by Bill Broun

In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah’s Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Over the course of a single night in 2052, a homeless man named Cuthbert Handley sets out on an astonishing quest: to release the animals of the London Zoo. As a young boy, Cuthbert’s grandmother had told him he inherited a magical ability to communicate with the animal world—a gift she called the Wonderments. Ever since his older brother’s death in childhood, Cuthbert has heard voices. These maddening whispers must be the Wonderments, he believes, and recently they have promised to reunite him with his lost brother and bring about the coming of a Lord of Animals . . . if he fulfills this curious request.

Cuthbert flickers in and out of awareness throughout his desperate pursuit. But his grand plan is not the only thing that threatens to disturb the collective unease of the city. Around him is greater turmoil, as the rest of the world anxiously anticipates the rise of a suicide cult set on destroying the world’s animals along with themselves. Meanwhile, Cuthbert doggedly roams the zoo, cutting open the enclosures, while pressing the animals for information about his brother.

Just as this unlikely yet loveable hero begins to release the animals, the cult’s members flood the city’s streets. Has Cuthbert succeeded in harnessing the power of the Wonderments, or has he only added to the chaos—and sealed these innocent animals’ fates? Night of the Animals is an enchanting and inventive tale that explores the boundaries of reality, the ghosts of love and trauma, and the power of redemption.

This is the last time I listen to a Library Journal book review. I regret paying so much for this book. This is technically a DNF, though I did skim every page. I think skimming it made it make just as much sense as it would wasting 100+ more hours on this story.

Basically the plot is: Old drug-addict man hears “voices” of animals and wants to let them out of the last zoo on earth. Sad, right? Except these are basically the last animals on earth too. Sadder, right? He is going to let them out and justice will be served? Meh.

That’s hard to tell. You don’t really understand  what the heck is going on in this version of the world. The world building is never fully realized. It’s dangerous but not dangerous. It’s weird but not weird. It’s real but not real. This story is just about as incoherent as the drug-addicted MC. And I don’t mean the accents the characters “speak” in. I have no complaint in that. But the flow and train of thought is so slapdash and unispired I wanted to fall asleep every five pages or so.

But back to the zoo.

That last zoo, of course, is in London. How more imperial can you get? How more Anglocentric can you get? How much more colonial could you get? Well, let me tell you, Broun could have gotten a lot more all of the above and still had a better story. He doesn’t use these opportunities to any satisfying degree. If at all (I don’t know, I was skimming. If YOU know, give me page numbers, maybe?).

In fact, he seems to ignore colonialism, the ripest fruit ready to be picked apart by an examination of The Zoo Mentality.

Dear God am I angry. Not only is this a 500-page debut of a novel which makes me question how the hell it was published when no minority author would likely get the same deal, but the story is terrible. This is now my number one example of White Male Mediocrity. This is the kind of book that gets labeled “magical realism” to make it seem more literary when really it is just genre fiction wrapped around a lazy deus ex machina.

I’m so freaking angry.

“Finally, as animals begin to escape the zoo and wreak havoc on London, we enter a realm of pure pulp. Cuthbert’s Doctor Doolittle powers begin to seem more and more real. The Christ of the Otters shows up. Cults infiltrate the government. We find out that Prince Harry killed his older brother William and is now ruling England with an iron fist. Aliens arrive. Strangers turn out to be long-lost relatives. A lady turns into a tree. Prince Harry — now Harry9 — has a death ray that bends the very fabric of time. It’s all presented very matter-of-factly: Yes, of course there are aliens. What kind of book did you think you were reading?

Then the animals are recaptured. And just as suddenly, the chaos subsides and all the conventions of pulp fade away. Those long-lost relatives turn out not to be genetically related after all. The animals stop talking. The aliens disappear.

Are we meant to understand that it all literally happened — that there were aliens and talking animals and ladies turning into trees? Or was it all in Cuthbert’s addled brain?

It’s not clear, but the richness of the ambiguity just adds to the book’s sense of sweeping melancholy. What Cuthbert wants, more than anything, is to return to the English forest of legend, and for just one night, it might have happened. Or then again, it might not have.”

Beyond the purple prose and “telling, not showing,”  the false advertising of this book leaves me angry. Noah’s Ark is mentioned in relation to the Zoo-as-Concept, but there is nothing profound that comes of it. I have read the story of Noah’s Ark. I do not see the similarities beyond Zoo-as-Ark. Thus, the synopsis should not say ” In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah’s Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

I am so, so freaking angry.

Like, I get it. I do. The whole “fading” culture and dialect thing can be paralleled to the fading species on the earth. Except why the crap are they fading? What is your statement on this? WHAT. That it’s sad? That’s it? That’s all you got?

OF COURSE a book sold as a serious story about animals is given to the white man. Of course. Of course this thick pile of poo is the best they could publish. Nothing really about animal rights, about how zoos are a colonialist construct, about how we can better treat them now in the present. Nothing. The zoo animals are just puppets that have no voice, despite the author trying his best to convince us that on some level they do speak. I feel cheated as a reader. Falsely-advertised to.

The cover has a bear. I don’t even remember a f*cking bear.

Here’s some other thoughts I had: The cult people seemed like dark versions of Gnostics. Perhaps, at a stretch, they’re a statement on PETA (who has been known to kill animals they cannot find homes for, just like the ASPCA, but on another level). Dr. Bajwa could have been cut entirely from the book. This novel could have been edited down to half its size. The story could have used more world building. The story could have used more continuity. The book was more “telling” than “showing.” Broun mentions so many plant varieties that I started to wonder if he liked plants more than animals. This book is not one I’d recommend. But I recommend reading the Vox article linked to above about it. That is all.

TBR: The Vegan Cookbook: 497 Recipes by Jack Truman

As a vegan, I loved getting the heads up about this book.

Find it on Smaswords.

A plant-based diet:

Is good for you
Is good for the animals
Is good for the planet

THE VEGAN COOKBOOK: 497 RECIPES is a collection of 497 healthy, mouth-watering plant based recipes free from any animal products. Author Jack Truman, a lifetime vegan and animal rights activist, has compiled a collection of his favorite family plant-based recipes over a lifetime.

Obesity is a growing problem in America. According to science, Animal Agriculture is the leading primary source to Climate Change. Millions of animals are slaughtered by the hour for human consumption. And a meat-centered diet is a major factor in Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes and all major diseases.

By adopting a plant-based diet and a vegan lifestyle, individuals can save the lives of animals, save their own lives from obesity and disease, and end Global warming. THE VEGAN COOKBOOK : 497 RECIPES is a healthy, nutritious resource of great recipes, free from any animal products.

 

Even raising the mere question of animal awareness was once enough to potentially ruin a career…

‘Even raising the mere question of animal awareness was once enough to potentially ruin a career. In the 1970s, the biologist Donald Griffin published a book that did almost exactly that: Question of Animal Awareness. Griffin at this point was a well-respected scientist who had recently made the discovery that bats use echolocation, or sonar, to navigate their surroundings. But after the publication of his book, his professional reputation was largely ruined. Even Jane Goodall caught some flak for going so far as to “humanize” her chimp research subjects by giving them names, and as recently as the 1990s, a writer in the prestigious journal Science advised that research concerning animal cognition “isn’t a project I’d recommend to anyone without tenure.”

Better data, including advances in neuroimaging technology and videos from scientists doing fieldwork, is now forcing many to reconsider some very basic questions of animal cognition. Today it sometimes seems like barely a week goes by without the publication of some new study that shows evidence of one species or another demonstrating what might’ve once been considered a strictly “human” ability or emotion.’

Read the rest.

I Do Not Care

Amen.

YesBiscuit!

Judgmental cats sees all. (Photo by Casey Post) Judgmental cat sees all. (Photo by Casey Post)

A shelter’s job is to shelter animals.

Animals have a right to live.

These two things trump all the excuses offered by killing apologists.

Therefore, I have zero fucks to give about the following:

  • An owner didn’t microchip a lost pet.
  • An owner didn’t see his lost pet’s photo on the shelter’s website as soon as it was posted.
  • An owner let a cat outside.
  • An owner accidentally left a gate open, had a hole in the fence, whatever.
  • An owner couldn’t come up with the cash to pay the shelter’s ransom for a lost pet.
  • An owner didn’t neuter and/or vaccinate a lost pet.
  • An owner didn’t have a collar and/or ID tag on a lost pet.
  • An owner was unable to physically visit the shelter during its open hours throughout the holding period to look for a lost…

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