10,000 for Western Imperialism

Westerners may have physically left their old colonies in Africa and Asia, but they retained them not only as markets but as locales on the ideological map over which they continue to rule morally and intellectually. – Edward Said

On September 3, In Defense of Animals launched an online petition with the aim of gathering 10,000 signatures from people pledging to support a total boycott of the entire country of Korea and all its products until Korea's Animal Protection Law is amended to strengthen the ban on the consumption of dogs and cats. Currently the petition has over 9,000 signatures and is likely to surpass its goal by its seventh day.

In his book Yellow, Frank Wu recommends Asian Americans who are asked "Do Asians eat dogs?" to respond with the question, "What is the point of asking whether I eat dogs?" Building on Wu's recommendation, we might ask, "What is the point of campaigning against dog-eating in Korea?" I'm convinced the answer is that campaigns targeting dog-eating as a cultural practice, including I.D.A.'s anti-Korea campaign, are based on a subtext of Western supremacy, Orientalism and imperialism, as well as speciesism.


Pets or Meat: Confronting the Origin Myth of 'Man's Best Friend'

There is a persistent myth that portrays the domestication of dogs as a mutually beneficial development between humans and the fabled "man's best friend." Those who believe and promote some version of this creation myth claim that dogs have always occupied their token status among nonhuman animals as a source of companionship, as opposed to a source of flesh.

The belief in this special "co-evolution" of humans and dogs affects how nonhuman animal activists think about the oppression of dogs. To recall one succinct version of the myth as told by pattrice jones, an ecofeminist-vegetarian activist:

Humans and dogs co-evolved. Canis lupus and Homo erectus were in close relationship with one another, and that has helped determine the details of our evolution. Thus the association of people and dogs is written into our bodies. That being the case, dogs might prefer not to be left to their own devices but, rather, to return to the harmonious inter-species relationship that prevailed before people subjected their former friends to captivity, forced labor, and reproductive control.

However, The New York Times reports findings that challenge such romantic beliefs about a "harmonious inter-species relationship." (Read more...)

The Social Construction of Domestication

Most pets are classified as so-called "domesticated animals." The root term "domestic" comes from the Latin word for house. As such, it's no wonder that the "domestication" of other animals relates to the social construction of our inability to understand these other animals as capable of living independently of a human household. (Read more...)

Abduction and Pets

Pet ownership is based on human supremacy. While 90 percent of pet owners may consider their pets as members of their families, this is in spite of the fact that these pets are abductees from another species. Implicit in the inclusion of pets in a human family is an acceptance of human supremacy that rests on the belief that humans can take better care of the other animals we keep as pets than those other animals' own species can.

This relationship of human supremacy is reinforced by the emphasis placed on reproductive sterilization by many nonhuman animal advocates. The subtext of this sterilization is that other animals are incapable of caring for their young. Sterilization is presented as the solution that assumes the problem is "homeless pets." Here "homeless" means the lack of a human's home, which reinforces the belief that these other animals are incapable of caring for themselves. Thus "adoption" into a human household is seen as essential to welfare of these other animals.

"Adoption" is a problematic term that obscures human supremacy and the exploitation of other animals as pets. The relationship of pet owners to their pets is one of abduction, not adoption. All pets, whether bought from a pet store, breeder, rescues, shelter, or acquired as strays share a history of abduction that is rooted in consumption. Pet stores and breeders are the most obvious cases of abduction, and could hardly be described otherwise. Rescues and shelters are more likely to use the term "adoption," but pets obtained from these sources are also abductees forces to live as dependents in human households.

There are different types of "rescues," most, however, are breed specific and are often collaborative in the consumption/abduction process. Shelters tend to be less collaborative, but are no less complicit in the consumption/abduction process. As such, rescues tend to be more supportive of breeding while shelters tend to be more supportive of sterilization, yet both continue to see pets as commodities and seek to place these other animals in human homes.

The practice of killing pets in shelters is part of the process of consumption/abduction. After all, it is the "least adoptable" pets who are killed off to make room for the "most adoptable." What this denotes is a hierarchy that assigns value to other animals in the shelter system according to the dictates of consumption. This hierarchy is also reflected in the rescues that focus on maintaining the "breed," which is also based on consumptive standards.

Rather than seeing the human relationship to other animals kept as pets as based on human supremacy and exploitation, nearly all parties blame the pets' own reproduction and biology as the problem. Thus the discussion resolves around "responsible breeding" and having pets "spayed and neutered." The consumption/abduction of these other animals goes unquestioned. Instead, this consumption/abduction is portrayed as a positive relationship and an example of the moral status of other animals.

The Status of Pets

Pets are often (mis)used as the typical example of an assumed double standard when it comes to how humans treat other animals. The distinction between pets and other nonhuman animals is usually measured by the market size of the consumer pet industry.

Torture: It's a Dog's Life

On Friday, Democracy Now! interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. In the interview Mayer talks about psychologists contracted by the CIA to develop torture methods used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Pet Ownership and Police Violence

On the LA Eastside blog, Browne Molyneux posted about the "Symbolic Gestures of Nothingness" made by a PETA volunteer who targets working class people of color in downtown LA's Fashion District for illegal animal sales. In her post, Molyneux makes two points: 1) targeting "illegal" pet sales doesn't challenge pet ownership; and 2) targeting people of color working on the street perpetuates racism and classism.

'Something the Lord Made'

On Friday, a local peace organization hosted a screening of Something the Lord Made, the story of Vivien Thomas (Mos Def), his experience working in the field of experimental surgery, and his pioneering work in cardiac surgery.

The movie shows Thomas's experiences as the target of White-supremacist capitalist patriarchy while he is working under Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), first at Vanderbilt University and later at Johns Hopkins University. While not an explicit part of the film, the oppression Thomas experiences is linked with that of the dogs who Thomas and Blalock use in their research.

Pets: Exploitation and Affection

Pets are often over looked as a target of exploitation. Terms like "animal companion" in place of "pet" and "guardian" in place of "owner" are euphemisms that hide the exploitation in the relationship by emphasizing the affection. The concept of the pet is also used to suggest that if other animals were kept on idyllic farms it would be alright to exploit them. It is this idea of the pet that is behind the contrast between the "family farm" and the "factory farm."