Bob Torres on "The Political Economy of Animal Rights"
The Vegan Freak is at it again. In his new book Making A Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights, Bob Torres wields an explosive battery of Marxist and anarchist artillery to level a withering critique of both the capitalism that drives animal exploitation and the conflicted philosophy of animal rights activism that he claims unwittingly entrenches this exploitation. For those who have read previous posts on the recent conflicts between Reformist and Abolitionist approaches to animal advocacy, the alleged inconsistencies in the "New Welfarist" approaches that Torres is criticizing will ring familiar.
The Uninterrogated Assumptions of "New Welfarism"
Says Torres: "Because some new welfarists imagine that talking about human hierarchy over animals and the moral wrong of all animal exploitation is too onerously radical and difficult for the average person to understand, let alone accept, we end up with campaigns, strategies, and tactics that do little more than refocus the efforts of industry to produce products that "caring, ethical" consumers find pleasing. We also end up with so-called "reforms" that even animal rights organizations argue make animal exploitation more profitable. Some activists refer to these reforms as "victories," and they are victories, in a sense: they are victories for the industry." (100) Among the organizations targeted here are PETA and The Humane Society of the United States, groups that, according to Torres, do not even engage, much less challenge, the foundational assumptions upon which the exploitative practices of animal use industries ultimately rest, namely the property status of animals (which paves the way for their commodification), and underlying that, the traditionally accepted hierarchy of human beings over animals.
Veganism as a Baseline
Entitled "You Cannot Buy the Revolution," the final chapter of this provocative read provides an intriguing but somewhat scant set of recommendations for moving forward. First and foremost, Torres maintains, veganism "must be a baseline for the animal rights movement. It is the daily, lived expression of abolition in one's life, and a rejection of the logic of speciesism." As Torres sees it, "vegan education should form the basis of our outreach and activism; in our interactions with people outside the movement, we should discuss why veganism is a viable option. This works in direct contrast to the current animal rights discourse, which promotes "happy meat," "humanely" raised eggs, and organic milk. All of these products rely on exploitation and maintain the relations that will continue to exploit. If we want to eradicate exploitation, we must begin by ending it in our own lives, and encouraging others to do the same." (145) Beyond adopting veganism, Torres recommends that we eschew large, beaurocratic institutions like PETA and HSUS in favor of marshaling the power of the internet and working in "consensus-based affinity groups"--smaller, more flexible collectives of like-minded people that may serve as "models of non-exploitative, non-hierarchical social relationships that highlight mutual aid and conviviality, while also respecting individuality." (148) Sounds a bit like ExtraVEGANza!. Who knew we were a consensus-based affinity group? SNAP!
At Home With Bob Torres
Controversial as its thesis may be, Making A Killing is an intriguing, challenging, and inspiring read, at least in part because of the uniqueness of Torres's voice. As a scholar-activist with a Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University and a professorship at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, he brings pedagogy and agitation into an unsettling, but potentially invigorating, confluence. Read all about his personal and professional exploits at bobtorres.net.