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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Neo-Marxism, Capitalism and Animal Exploitation

The story of capitalism universally has been one of the oppressor versus the oppressed. While an analysis of the history of capitalism has taken a decidedly anthropocentric focus over the centuries, the recognition of nonhuman animals as one of those subjugated groups—and the significance of animal rights and the ethical vegan movement in actively working to end this oppression and raise human consciousness—has been garnering more attention, specifically by Neo-Marxists.

For centuries, capitalism has justified abusive labor practices and the destruction of nature and nonhuman animals in the pursuit of wealth. With the added aid of technology, nature and animals are being destroyed at alarming rates as modes of production, and the use of distance and concealment, encourage indifference towards them as nothing more than inanimate commodities.

Eggs
Hundreds of live male chicks thrown out in plastic bags every day.

For example, male chicks are deemed worthless and costly to the egg industry because they don't produce eggs. Hatcheries breed chickens and then divide the newly born males from the females along an assembly belt. Once separated, the males are then quickly disposed of in one of three ways: they are gassed, suffocated in plastic bags (above), or tossed into a grinding machine and ground up alive—all within 72 hours of birth. This happens to 150,000 male chicks every single day at just one facility; some 260 million are killed this way every year.

"Cattle were the original capital," explained Pattrice Jones in her book, The Oxen at the Intersection. "The Latin capitalis comes from the term caput (head) and the habit of referring to a group of captive cows as however-many 'head of cattle.' As a form of wealth that was both moveable and tradable, captive cows featured prominently in the development of both agricultural capitalism and mercantilism, each of which contributed to the growth of industrial and consumer capitalism."

Capitalism exploits labor while it successfully alienates and conditions labor (people) to turn their frustration and angst—not against the capitalists who warrant it—but on those who have no power. Many slaughterhouse workers have few options and are treated less than human, and bear out their grievances on the least among them and those who can’t fight back—the animals which society has tasked them with needlessly killing for consumption.

Here are some quotes from slaughterhouse workers taken from Dr. Melanie Joy's book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: 
“You’re going to lose hogs in a semitrailer no matter what. . . . During the time I worked in rendering, there was large piles of dead hogs every day. . . When they come off the truck, they’re solid as a block of ice. . . . I went to pick up some hogs one day for chainsawing from a pile of about thirty frozen hogs, and I found two [that were] . . . frozen but still alive. . . I could tell they were alive because they raised their heads up like, ‘Help me.’ . . . I took my ax-chopper and chopped them to death.”
“When the hogs smell blood, they don’t want to go [to the killing floor]. I’ve seen hogs beaten, whipped, kicked in the head to get them up to the restrainer. One night I saw a driver get so angry at a hog he broke its back with a piece of board. I’ve seen hog drivers take their prod and shove it up the hog’s ass to get them to move.”
“I saw an employee kick a chicken off the floor fan and routinely saw chickens being thrown around the room. . . . While one of the workers was talking about football, he “spiked” a chicken onto the conveyor belt, pretending he had scored a touchdown.”
While the choices of some workers may be limited, at least they still have one. Animals, on the other hand, have none. Nevertheless, both serve as inputs in the capitalist’s acquisition of riches. From the Neo-Marxist perspective, both groups are exploited, however, capitalist exploitation is rooted in animal exploitation. "Speciesism prepares the ground for and provides the building blocks with which other forms of discrimination, exploitation, and displacement are constructed," continued Ms. Jones.

Notions about inequality tend to focus on race, sex, and class while overlooking species. In 1933, Max Horkheimer, a famous German philosopher and sociologist, came up with the skyscraper metaphor to illustrate the foundation of a capitalist society built on animal oppression:
From the upper cathedral windowed floors rule the feuding tycoons of the various capitalist power constellations. Below them, the lesser magnates, the large landowners and the entire staff of important co-workers. Below that . . . the large numbers of professionals, smaller employees, political stooges, the military and the professors, the engineers and heads of office down to the typists; even further down what is left of the independent, small existences, craftsmen, grocers, farmers . . . then the proletarian, from the most highly paid, skilled workers down to the unskilled and the permanently unemployed, the poor, the aged and the sick. It is only below these that we encounter the actual foundation of misery on which this structure rises. . . . Below . . . the indescribable, unimaginable suffering of the animals, the animal hell in human society . . . the sweat, blood, despair of the animals. . . .The basement of that house is a slaughterhouse . . .”
The exploitation of nonhuman animals and nature is fostered through culturally-driven consumer choices alongside corporate and government agendas. For example, despite the "happy cows" commercials, dairy cows are anything but; and in spite of marketing suggesting that "milk does a body good," dairy consumption is a leading factor in diabetes, obesity, and cancer, yet dairy is continually promoted by taxpayer financed programs and advertising supported by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the dairy industry. 

The demand for fish and fish meal are depleting oceans so fast that scientists believe there will be no more fish by 2050, while increasing amounts of plastic and pollution fill their void. Forests are being cleared and plundered, and waterways polluted in BRIC and other economically developing nations to make way for more cattle and cheap beef while doing so directly starves the very poor in those same countries. And all of this is done on the backs of billions of animals who are bred and killed every year to fill false needs for dairy, meat, eggs, and other animal products.

Like most people, left-leaning groups disregard animal rights and liberation at their own peril; they also don't take veganism seriously enough because to do so would require a change in mindset and daily living for both themselves and their supporters. Regardless of ideology, people are lax to give up their addictions to animal foods, even going out of their way to defend animal enslavement and cruelty because it’s easier to change one’s beliefs than one’s behaviors. Moreover, society at large gives its overwhelming stamp of approval.

“We know that suffering is something that humans share with animals and that we have the possibility to abolish it. . . .” said Christin Bernhold of Association Dawn in the Weekly Worker. “There can be no social liberation if the liberation of animals does not factor into it both theoretically and politically.”

The commercialization of animals is a mainstay of the capitalist economy and to undo this manipulation and oppression requires systemic change. As Will Potter stated in his book, Green is the New Red
“The animal rights and environmental movements, more than any other social movements, directly threaten corporate interests. They do so every time activists encourage people to go vegan, stop driving, consume fewer resources and live simply. They do not advocate boycotts so much as life changes, and the changed lives they envision do not include some of the most powerful industries on the planet. . . . the perceived threat of these movements is much bigger than a threat to corporate pocketbooks. More than money is at stake.”
Massive misery is caused by three-fold exploitation: of humans by other humans, of nature and animals by humans, and the exploitation of our own selves whereby we repress our own humanity in order to function in a dysfunctional capitalist society dominated by cruel social norms that encourage consumerism at all costs, even at the expense of our lives and the lives of others. This repression of morality literally consumes our world and is especially prevalent during meal times when we are more than happy to ignore the victims on our plates.

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