One of the most haunting statements I’ve heard about race-based oppression was uttered by Randall Robinson, repeated by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary: “The worst thing you can do to a people is to rob them of the memory of themselves.”
It bears restatement: Human liberation movements and animal liberation involve different oppressions, and the way to unravel them involves different social mechanisms. Yet there is, it seems to me, something in Robinson’s message that can inform the theory of animal liberation.
Humans have robbed our domesticated animals of their ancestors’ evolution. The free-living ancestors of today’s cows are the aurochs, now extinct. Aurochs were not particularly friendly to our ancestors; but then, they had no such interest or obligation. A group of aurochs could trample a village. We, ever the clever primates, figured out how to trap them and breed smaller, more docile animals from them, so that instead of preparing hunting parties to stalk them, we could make them accessible and push them around.
To this day, cows trample a few dozen humans to death each year—I’ve found myself chased by cows in Wales; I’ll never forget my surprise and panic—but they’ve lost their ancestral stature and relationships forever. The vegan principle does not challenge us to integrate them into pleasant scenery or human friendships; it challenges us to stop breeding them into a dependent existence. To liberate our advocacy, we need to foster in ourselves an awareness, a recognition, that other animals are not our babies, not our housemates or helpmates; that domesticated or trained animals are limited, not perfected; that the freedom of living beings in habitat, without any need to seek human rescue or shelter or companionship, is a healthy thing to want; and that the lack of it is not.
Domestication, captivity, and caregiving are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of living world. We can only hope to correct (or at least stop perpetuating) what we can perceive as domination. Images of animals doing things that impress or amuse us in controlled circumstances should, instead of being classified as cute, jar our senses. They should remind us of the evolution and history they could have had, had we let them be.
Adapted from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, by Lee Hall