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.”