Sensoria from Sensorium n°2
Interview DAVID OLIVIER, editor.
“Les cahiers antispécistes lyonnais” Lyon, France.
by Françoise duvivier
published in the book “Sensoria from Sensorium” n°2, 1993, Canada
-Can you tell us about your magazine called : “Les cahiers antispécistes lyonnais” which is the first in france on this subject. tell us your motivations, the public reaction, etc...
-Things started on a militant level for us about four years ago. It is difficult to judge the progress we have made since then; in a sense, there isn't really in France at this time an animal liberation movement. We published a starting “issue number 0” of our CAHIERS ANTISPECISTES last September, and two full issues since; we now have about 70 subscribers, but this is clearly an over-estimation of the number of people who can be called animal liberationists. Too many people in particular just don't see the difference between liberationnism and ecology; we feel these differences are very essential. The strongest connection we have is with the Italian group EGUAGLIANZA ANIMALE in Milano, who introduced us to Peter Singer, Tom Regan, etc...and gave us the energy to go on.
Peter Singer's ANIMAL LIBERATION will be published in France next Fall by a major publisher, and we hope this will help the movement to take off. One of our problems is public visibility. We are relatively well known (though not always well loved!) in underground, punk, anarchist, leftist, etc, circles, but not to the general public, and the problem "is" that many people in the traditionnal leftist circles are actually very narrow-minded, have automatic conditioned responses. One of their taboos for instance is you mustn't say the public is responsible for something; you must always say the public has been misled by Capitalism, Mac Donald or whatever.
-What is the difference between your movement and those of the official animal defense movements, we know in france? - what are your reproaches to the “l.f.d.a.”-“ligue frangaise des droits de l'animal”-“ french league for the rights of the animal”?
-In practice, the immediate difference between us and the “animal defense” movements is that we fight against meat, which represents maybe 99% of the suffering that humans inflict on animals. This is the consequence of an ideological difference; we are antispeciesist, that is for animal equality (for the ethical equal consideration of the interests, or of the rights, orwhatever, of all individuals, independently of their species, i.e. independently of whether they are human or not), whereas the “animal defense” movements are not antispeciesist. In fact, they are often racist too.
The LFDA (ligue Frangaise des Droits de l'Animal, French League for the rights of the animal) is actually an animal defense movement, even though it tries to appear more radical. In many ways in fact it is less radical, since it isn't much opposed to animal experimentation at all. Nothing in its “Declaration of Rights of the Animal” opposes meat. We believe this “Declaration”, which has gained some kind of semi official international standing with the U.N, is a cover-up, an attempt to make people identify animal rights with this “Declaration”; for us, animal rights is for instance what Tom Regan says, which is quite something else; rights for us means fundamental rights, the right not to have one's life or quality of life destroyed for meat or scientific experiments, and these rights apply to human and non human animals alike, and for the same reasons. As opposed to this, the LFDA's "Declaration" is a catalogue of particular rights for NON HUMAN ANIMALS ONLY, and in cases where human and non human rights conflict, human rights are said to override non human rights.
-Let us better know your reactions and you reasons against our meat culture.
-There is something incredible about people's attitude concerning meat, something pathological. We know many people who eat meat, but who believe they are “on the animals'side” because they avoid, say, cosmetics containing whale blubber; and on the other hand, most of those we know who don't eat meat say this is for.... nature's sake, or their health, or for any reason but for the animals. It is as if the enormous crime committed against animals by eating them every day was a taboo, a blind spot; as if specisism was sacred. The title of the first booklet we published, in 1989, is “We don't eat meat so as not to kill animals”; even with such a clear statement, we have many people who say:“ I agree with you, meat is loaded with antibiotics”. This looks a lot like hysterical partial deafness.
This may vary of course from country to country; but it is significant that even animal liberation movements - such as those we know in the U .S, in England, in Poland -tend to avoid the issue of meat, and give it much less weight that it should have.
-What do you reproach to the publication: “civis” edited by hans ruesch?
-Hans Ruesch and his followers categorically reject the ethical position against vivisection and meat, and they violently attack all those who hold such a position. They say for example that vivisection is a scientific fraud, in other words that it is harmful TO HUMANS. They say that meat is poisonous, and kills...humans! Whatever truth there may be in this, we feel using this kind of argument is injurious in itself to the animals that are killed. We oppose speciesism, and this kind of argument reinforces speciesism. And even on a tactical level, there isn't any real evidence that these “selfish” arguments can be more productive that the ethical ones; they have been used repeatedly for hundreds of years, to no avail, whereas the animal liberation movement, with ethical arguments, has had much more success.
-Is the idea of “animal liberation” terrorist or pacific? - how do you hope to make move the mentalities ?
-The idea of animal liberation is in itself neither terrorist nor pacific ; it is defined by its end, and many roads can lead to that end. The end itself can certainly be termed pacifist, or anti-violence, since the aim is to put an end to what is a very reasonable candidate to the title of most bloody and cruel war ever waged - which is no small title.
In the face of this violence, the animal liberation movement as it does exist is certainly very pacific. There are millions of people worldwide struggling for animal liberation, and only a handful of them engage in illegal actions, which means risking their own freedom, but hardly ever doing any physical violence against any human or non human animal, since the principle of the Animal Liberation Front explicity prohibit violence. As far as we know, no human in the world has ever been killed by an animal liberation action.
The approach we have chosen in France is to do propaganda at a relatively abstract, theoretical, level, mainly translating philosophical texts from English and Italian, and wrinting things ourselves. However, we do not mean to say that our method is the best or the only one; it just happens to bewhat we have chosen, for a variety of reasons. Revolutionary movements have been plagued by people who thought they knew the best and only way; we do not think that anyone ought to claim to KNOW which is the correct and sure method that will lead to victory. However, in France, where most people don't even have the slightest idea that there can exist an animal liberation movement, we do feel that for any action, whether illegal or not, to have a positive impact on the public, its message must be expressed very explicitly; and must also be liberationnist. Saving rats from a labaratory in our mind has a NEGATIVE public impact if what you explain to the public is that vivisection is a scientific fraud. It certainly is still a good thing for the rats that are saved, but getting just one person to go , vegetarian will save more animals than that.
However there is one problem in saying the movement is pacific, if this is understood as implying that we reject coercion, and see persuasion as the only legitimate means to putting an end to the violence humans commit against other animals. In practice, we are not in a position to use coercion, and we do not favour coercion; however, coercion to prevent people from killing animals for food, for example, would be LEGITIMATE, in the same sense that coercion to prevent someone from raping would be legitimate, even if it may be more pleasant, and maybe more productive, to use persuasion, education, propaganda and so on. This is especially important because the main violence against animals is the choice people make to eat them, and this is almost always seen as a PRIVATE choice. It is seen as a private choice precisely because for most people non human animals don't matter; a taste for eating human infants, for instance, wouldn't be seen as a private choice. It is important for us to make it clear that we are not asking people to do a FAVOUR to animals; we are asking them to stop committing a violence they have not the slightest legitimate claim to commit, against beings who have every legitimate claim not to be subjected to this violence.
-What is your position towards racism and sexism? - what do you think of politics concerning animal liberation?
-We are opposed to racism and to sexism, and in favour of equal consideration of the interests of Third World humans in particular. All this is a direct consequence of our call for moral equality of all sentient individuals, whatever their species, sex, race, country or whatever. We are opposed to all arbitrary discrimination. On a practical level, the oppressed always face a double temptation: they can identify with others who are oppressed or even more oppressed than they are, or on the contrary they can try to distance themselves as far as possible from them. The oppression of animals has served for a long time as a scarecrow for all oppressed humans; the French expression “to treat someone like a dog”, for instance, means to treat that person real bad. This has something to do with the fact that anti-speciesist ideas have a lot of problems being accepted by traditional left-wing, anarchist, etc, movements.
Another reason why left-wing movements often reject animal liberation may be that many people are in these movements to seek power; and animals can't give power. Animals don't vote!
-And what about ecology? - what is the difference between this way of thinking and the animal liberation movement?
-Ecology has nowadays a very strong, pervasive, influence on almost everyone's way of thinking; and we see the ecology movement as one of the main enemies of animal liberation. Maybe we overreact to the theoretical differences and oppositions between the two movements; the fact is that there are many people who see themselves as belonging to both movements, and feel that both movements have the same fundamental goal. We don't see it that way at all; and it also seems that several of the major philosophers of the animal liberation movement, such as Singer, Regan and Sapontzis, tend more and more clearly to emphasize the oppositions between the movements.
Of course, we are opposed to the absurd destruction of the habitat that is necessary to human and non human animals. However, ecology is quite something else. Take the subtitle of the ANIMALS'AGENDA, for example: “HELPING ANIMALS AND THE EARTH”; this implies that the earth (or Earth - the subtitle is all capitals) ITSELF needs help, FOR ITS OWN SAKE, independently of its usefulness to the animals that live on it. And what is this Earth, what does helping it mean? This looks a lot like a religious, mystical concept.
Animal liberation is not a religion, a mystique. On the other hand, although we ourselves are not religious, animal liberation is not as such opposed to religions or mystiques. However, in this case the problem is in how the will of this deity, called Earth (or Nature, or Gaia, or whatever) is interpreted; To help the earth you must know what the earth wants, what is “good” or “bad” for it (we repeat, independently of what is good or bad for the animals). And what is considered as “Earth's will” is always an "equilibrium": the state of the world before human interference. The fact is this equilibrium is largely imaginary, it has never existed; natural history is a long chaotic evolution.
Taking a past “equilibrium” as reference and ideal for all action is literally reactionary, which wouldn't be a problem if this past state of affairs was a paradise; however, nature has never been a paradise, it hasn't been hell either, but it has been largely the realm of claws and teeth. Humans have learned to do better than nature for themselves, and at least in the developed countries, their lives can be longer and less plagued by disease, predation and famine that those of their ancestors.
Ecology is very often directly used AGAINST animal liberation. Everyone has heard the story of deer dying of starvation because of overpopulation due to lack of predators; this is supposed to “prove” that the natural way is the best, that predation is good. This logic is then used to explain that eating meat is right. Of course, it is possible to point out that the situation is quite different between a wolf eating a deerin the wild and a human city-dweller eating a factory-farmed pork chop but this answer, in our opinion, misses the point. If you take the idea of animal liberation seriously, if you take the individual interests of all sentient animals seriously, you will take seriously the interest every individual deer has not to be killed; and you will favor other methods of population control such as contraception. Though our main focus for obvious reasons is against human predation, against humans eating meat, there is no reason why we should conceal that there is a clear antagonism between animal liberation and many things ecologists call for in the name of "Nature", such as the reintroduction of wild predatory species in habitats they have disappeared from.
We think that taking the standard of nature, that is competition and predation, as a working standard of conduct, is totally opposed to our aims. We are not either opposed to nature as such, in the sense that we don't believe nature has a will; it is just a state of affairs, that can certainly be bettered. This point is all the more important because many people often confuse animal liberation and ecology; one reason is that they identify animals and nature. This is wrong; even wild animals are not nature. An animal is born in nature has in no way chosen the state of affairs she is born in; she may marginally change that state of affairs, but this will be with no clear conscience of what she is doing. People often speak of nature as if it were some kind of play, in which animals were consenting actors; that when a hare runs away from the wolf, she is just testing her genetic endowment, and if it turns out it is not up to par , she is quite content with being gobbled up. People often also confuse individual animals with their species; and they think that it is bad to "harm a species", whatever that may mean, but think nothing of harming the individual animal.
Ecology is one of the reasons why many people in the animal liberation movement tend to avoid the meat issue; it's much more comfortable to oppose vivisection and zoos, which can be easily depicted as “anti-nature”, than to oppose meat, which, in its principle, is “natural”. This means that these animal liberationnists will neglect to address over 95 percent of human-induced animal suffering.
We feel that absorbing animal liberation into a hazy and complex “whole”, and believing such comfortable but unprovable things as “nature and animal interests go hand in hand”, is just another way to avoid taking into account the very simple message of animal liberation.
-Is meat necessary for human health? - your opinions about the animal experimentation, the animals who are killed for food, etc...is there another way of living, another medecine, a way of living which recpect completely the animals?
-We don't know why meat isn't necessary for human health; it just seems to be an accident of nature, since, for instance, up to recently, meat was necessary for cats'health (there now exists a supplement, called Vegecat, that enables cats to go without meat). The fact that human beings can be vegan and can be healthy without any animal products with no fuss, less expense and practically no supplement (except for vitamin B12, to be on the safe side) make things easier for the animal liberation movement. But we do not believe it has so much to do with the fact that animal liberation is RIGHT. Black liberation was right whether or not slavery was a good thing for the American economy. Killing animals to eat them is WRONG.
For animal experimentation things are a bit less easy. Humans are animals, and non human animals act as replacements for humans in medical research; this is probably somewhat useful TO HUMANS, in the same way as using black humans to test drugs and medical procedures for white humans would be (and has been!) useful TO WHITE HUMANS - even more so than using non humans, since Black are more like White than non humans are like humans. But the fact that a kind of research is useful to someone doesn't make it right.
It must be said however that since very many humans have at best only a very minimal consideration for the interests of animals, an enormous amount of scientific, commercial and military research is done that makes countless animals surfer and die, just for money, career advancement, or even less serious reasons. Furthermore, what is most needed in way of medical investment nowadays is probably not research, or at least not that kind; for someone who sincerely wants to saves human lives, putting money into Third World sanitary and/or food programs is certainly much more efficient than putting it into cancer research.
Animal liberation calls for applying the same standards of consideration and protection to non human animals as to humans. There may be discussions about what this means in theory; however, in practice, it means putting and end to experiments that harm animals - that is practically all animal experiments, since animals are almost always killed at the end. One consequence will be that scientists will look for other methods; whether these will be less, as, or more efficient is not our point. The reason scientists don't look for them now is that they don't have to, and that they don't care; since they eat animals, why should they care about experimenting on them? However easy it may be to find an alternative to the LD50 test, it is easier still to find an alternative to a ham sandwich; since few people look for an alternative to a ham sandwich, it is hardly surprising that scientists still use the LD50 test.
Our main emphasis is on animal killed for food, because their number is by far the greatest, and also because everyone is very directly responsible, and that this is in our minds a very central problem. People may not be conscious of the amount of suffering inflicted in the factory farms upon the animals they eat, but they are responsible of the fact that these beings are considered as meat, as something worth killing just for the taste of it, and that attitude is the basis not only for the death of the animals, but also for all the misery inflicted upon them during their short lifetimes. The first thing we call for is for people to stop eating animals. This is very simple. Of course, we also ask people to use products that were not tested on animals, non-leather shoes, etc; these alternative exist. We don't ask people to change their lifestyles. We dont ask them to give up smoking, alcohol, and so on; everyone knows smoking is dangerous, you smoke or you don't smoke, this hasn't much to do with animal liberation. We don't ask people to become medical or nutritional experts; this is not the point. You can be for animal liberation whether or not you believe in homeopathy, God, reincarnation or astrology, believe animal experimentation is a scientific fraud, whether you drink or don't drink, are homosexual or heterosexual or don't know.
DAVID OLIVIER, editor. “Les cahiers antispécistes lyonnais“ 20 rue d'Aguesseau, 69007 Lyon, France.
our publications in French :
NOUS NE MANGEONS PAS DE VIANDE POUR NE PAS TUER D'ANIMAUX, 1989, Yves Bonnardel et al., 20 rue Cayenne, 69007 Lyon, France; 56 page booklet, 20F.
LE MOUVEMENT DE LIBERATION ANIMALE, SA PHILOSOPHIE, SES REALISATIONS, SON AVENIR, Peter Singer, 1991, F. Blanchon Editeur, 6 rue dela Victoire, 69003 Lyon, France; small book, 28F.
CAHIERS ANTISPECISTES LYONNAIS, quaterly magazine, 20 rue D'Aguesseau, 69007 Lyon, France; 20F per issue, subscription (4 issues) 80F.
Important books in English:
ANIMAL LIBERATION, 2nd EDITION, Peter Singer, 1990, New York Review of books, New York, or Jonathan Cape, London.
THE CASE FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS, [ Tom Regan, 1983, University of California Press, Berkeley. MORALS, REASON, AND ANIMALS,
S.F. Sapontzis, 1987, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.