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Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres

News ArchiveAnarchists disagree on a lot of issues but agree on others. Most would agree that hierarchy in this world–forced upon us at birth and ingrained through every aspect of culture is unacceptable. Most would agree society reinforces hierarchy through its many institutions, and that hand-in-hand with hierarchy comes unequal wealth and power distribution. And again, most anarchists would agree that capitalism has a huge role in oppressing and exploiting people; domination and hierarchy thrive in the fertile ground of an economic system that views people as units for production. Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres

“The centrality of classifying animals as property should not be underestimated when it comes to considering the depths of animal exploitation woven into our society and economy. Having animals categorized as property gives us the ability to exploit them as a resource for even minor human wants.”

Anarchists disagree on a lot of issues but agree on others. Most would agree that hierarchy in this world–forced upon us at birth and ingrained through every aspect of culture is unacceptable. Most would agree society reinforces hierarchy through its many institutions, and that hand-in-hand with hierarchy comes unequal wealth and power distribution. And again, most anarchists would agree that capitalism has a huge role in oppressing and exploiting people; domination and hierarchy thrive in the fertile ground of an economic system that views people as units for production. But just how do animals fit into the capitalist equation? That’s a question asked by social anarchist Bob Torres in the book, Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights. Torres takes a fresh and fascinating look at the way we treat animals, and in presenting his argument that animals are just as much a part of the corporate machine as humans, he argues that with a “baseline” of veganism:

“As a needless and unnecessary form of hierarchy, anarchists should reject the consumption, enslavement, and subjugation of animals for human ends, and identify it as yet another oppressive aspect of the relations of capital and a needless form of domination.”

Now to some, that statement–as we absorb it–makes perfect sense. But other anarchists will reject this position. Is it extreme to see that animals are simply tools in the capitalist machine? If we embrace this position, then surely the next thing is to reject the consumption of animal products, just as we reject other forms of capitalism that insidiously and persistently attempt to weave into every aspect of our lives.

Torres, a philosophy professor at St. Lawrence University presents his antispeciesist argument to the reader, and after finishing the book, I have to say that Making A Killing is one of the best books I read in 2007. Torres has managed to clarify many of the problems I had with issues connected to the animal rights movement, commodification of animals, and the animal agriculture industry. Torres presents irrefutable arguments regarding the treatment of animals, and he does this by combining Marxist economic theory with anarchist beliefs.

Arguing that there are “similarities with how humans are exploited as labor power” and “how animals are exploited as commodities,” Torres walks the reader through his belief that agriculture animals are members of the working class, with animals “mere ends towards the production of greater capital.” Holding absolute power and dominion over animals, we treat them in a range of ways–at best they are seen as property, at worst they are enslaved in the violence of the capitalist money making machine. Forced to labor and produce, “animals are nothing more than living machines, transformed from beings who live for themselves into beings that live for capital.”

But beyond examining animal agriculture, Torres also explores the exploitation of animals in vivisection. Citing some of the ridiculous and redundant aspects of animal experimentation, he notes that with a death toll of a “conservative estimate of 20 million animals per year in the United States alone” vivisection “is big business.”

Another issue covered in the book is the bizarre contrast in the way we treat animals. Torres argues that some species are granted special status, companion animals, for example. While they would seem to be higher on the hierarchal chain of worth assigned to them by humans, Torres notes that they still “seem to occupy a sort of nether-world between animal and human,” and that they are still fundamentally (legally) viewed as property. There’s a current trend afoot to encourage the ‘gentrification’ of companion animals by draping dogs and cats in designer jewelry. The capitalist system has undoubtedly seen the benefits of feeding the idea of companion animals as fashion accessories–there is–after all BIG money to be made on these consumerist trends.

Torres also blasts the animal rights groups who seem to have been effectively co-opted by capitalism (this should come as no great surprise to anarchists). While he acknowledges, “critiquing PETA is seen as a special form of heresy,” he cites several examples to back up his criticism; PETA’s granting the ‘Visionary” award, for example, to Temple Grandin for redesigning slaughterhouses “to decrease the amount of suffering that animals experience in their final hours.” According to Torres, this “defies rational comprehension” and is “at the very least contradictory.” Torres argues this is just one example of the many “Faustian bargains” mainstream organizations make with the animal agriculture industry in order to maintain “bureaucratic concerns.” He notes that we opt out of our responsibility by imagining that animal welfare groups are there in place to oversee the job for us. If the animal welfare groups are out there improving animal slaughter in order to ensure that happy animals end up on our dinner tables, then we can eat meat with a clear conscience.

Torres really hits some chords when he points out that in many ways, animal activist groups simple end up helping corporations develop great new business strategies and yuppie market niches. Citing the blatant example of Whole Foods, Torres notes that “they’ve been able to convince people that are supposedly opposed to animal exploitation to sign on to a business and marketing model that relies on the exploitation of animals, albeit in kinder, gentler ways.” Whole Foods, and other similar corporations “get to appear as the ‘ethical’ choice for consumers who care, but who don’t care enough to give up foods that exploit.” We’ve all seen the ads–ranging from Amish chickens to my personal favorite–’tasty veal without the cruelty.’

One of the things I particularly like about Torres’s book is that there is no aim to make us wallow in guilt. Guilt as an issue comes up only in connection with sneaky marketing ploys used by corporations designed to ensnare us into guilt avoidance. Torres makes his arguments with clear concise rationality, and he offers facts and figures without emotional hyperbole. The book ends on a surprisingly optimistic note with suggestions for readers. I’ve long been troubled by animal commodification and exploitation and Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights synthesized these issues for me by placing animals “within the larger dynamics of capitalist exploitation.” The book includes an index (always appreciated by this reader), and scrupulous notes for further reading. Excellent.

17.95
AK Press
171 pages

www.subversivevision.wordpress.com
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Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres | 4 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
Authored by: ForNanaHarriet on Saturday, January 12 2008 @ 08:41 PM CST
A good article, but it gives me another excuse to point out what I feel is missing from all this veganism and animal rights talk.
I have friends and family who are sustenance hunters. Most of them feel exactly the same way about corporate farming and animal use industry.
Some of these hunters live in remote locations, where the gardening season is short and food must be trucked in from distant places. One of the things I hear them say is that there isn't a single vegetable trucked into their town that hasn't been part of needless animal suffering, whether it is the loss of wildlife habitat to agriculture, the destruction of soil life by tilling, the death of animals caught in combines, the roadkill that invaribly happens when anything is transported, etc. For some sustenance hunters, hunting is the most animal friendly way they can feed themselves. To them, the vegan who refuses to pick up a gun and kill an animal still has blood on their hands, unless they grow their own food using no-till methods or wildcraft wild plants.
The response that I get from other vegans in the city is that the sustenance hunter is a minor fringe in this world, and these discussions that we have about animal rights are mostly directed at urban people who have no reason or ability to hunt, and the statements made about killing animals are just simple ways of getting urban consumers to stop supporting companies that torture and exploit animals. Whether a minority of people in the mountains kill animals in a respectful way is irrelevant and really only serves to confuse people.
Yet we're trying so hard to build bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, and if you want to say that the meat and dairy industries are evil, you'll have a lot of First Nations people on your side. If you continue to declare that taking life is wrong in all circumstances, you are insulting people, their culture and their ancestors. I'm not saying tradition should be blindly followed, but we do need to understand the role it plays to those outside the dominant culture.
I know this review did not infer that rejection of capitalism and industry requires one to be vegan, but so often anti-meat and dairy industry and veganism get so closely related that it subtly infers the issue is so clearcut.
Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
Authored by: Admin on Sunday, January 13 2008 @ 02:38 PM CST

I've been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for almost 20 years. I didn't become a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but the farm crisis and environmentalism were factors in helping me decide to stop eating meat. I am somewhat more sympathetic these days to ethical arguments made by vegans, but I know that I'll never stop eating eggs and cheese.

I've long been of the opinion that hunting for food is OK if it is being done by people who live on the land and require meat for survival. Hunting for sport is pretty stupid, even when it is done by people who otherwise live on farms. I know several people who hunt for food, so I don't have any problem with them. The funny thing is that one of them invited me to go hunting with him several months ago. I told him that I was kind of interested, but that I'd have to stick to doing bird-watching during any of his hunting trips.

I am pleased to report that a new vegan restaurant has just opened in Kansas City, just a few blocks from our infoshop. I ate there last night and was quite pleased with the food. I'll be a regular customer for the foreseeable future.

Chuck0

Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
Authored by: scott crow on Sunday, January 13 2008 @ 11:27 AM CST
I think the analysis in the Torres book is one that has been under represented in the more mainstream animal liberation dialogs.

In my worldview and the work that I engage in the exploitation of humans, animals and the planet are pillars of the self destructive systems of which we all are part of either willingly or not. I have been a vegan/vegetarian for over 20 years and although I personally have ethical/compassionate reasons in my framework for not wanting to consume animals, in my overarching principles the exploitative business of 'factory farming '--or in better terms wholesale mechanized slaughter--is one of the largest under represented ways that their capitalist system is out of control that we omit from many discussions.

Many anarchists, environmentalists as well as lifestyle vegans of all stripes often don't make the connections of impacts of largescale slaughter on our environments, people, animals, economies etc. beyond the 'ethical' debate. I see this as a blindspot that has been missing from many larger discussions.

Like the button says "Oppression of one is oppression of all'
even if everyone doesn't become a level 5 vegan consumer (like PETA would like)it doesn't mean we should let factory farming off the hook in our analysis of 'systems of exploitation'. I believe we must confront that reality in our discussions to remove it from society just as we do with other systems of oppression and not let it stay in the hands of reformers like PETA who are happier with a kinder , gentler wholesale mechanized slaughter. The wheels still grind on.

Towards liberation!


---
'dream the future
know your history
organize your people
fight to win'

scott crow
Review: Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
Authored by: Robo-chan on Sunday, January 13 2008 @ 02:19 PM CST
Good review. I'm in the middle of reading "Making a Killing" myself. My thoughts haven't totally coalesced on what I've read so far, but I don't doubt that it will have been an important read from my own perspective. There are several things I've objected to, though. (This may seem off-topic, but it is in the book, so I'll roll with it.)
One is a passage on p. 68, just under the sub-chapter "Violence," which quotes a premise from Derrick Jensen's "endgame" Vol. 1. Torres then goes on to say that:

"Despite the problems and flaws with anarcho-primitivist thinking like Jensen's- among them, that the violent collapse of civilization called for would likely mean death for scores of innocent people - his basic analysis of civilization as a violent force is compelling in it's scope (even if I disagree with a great number of his conclusions)."

I think this misrepresents Jensen's stance in "endgame." Jensen doesn't call for the violent collapse of civilization. In Premise One of his book, he states that civilization can never be sustainable. Hence the collapse is inevitable, with or without any active working towards a collapse. He then goes on to write, in Premises 7 and 9, that given the violence that our culture sustains itself on, the collapse will most likely be violent. Torres seems to suggest that the violence in a societal collapse would be the violence supposedly called for by anarcho-primitivists, when obviously it would be almost exclusively heightened violence by a threatened state and culture.

Torres doesn't treat the subject of a societal collapse in his book, but I would think that the violence towards animals he documents in "Making a Killiing," and the efforts the state has gone to protect and promote that violence, would make him attuned to the level of violence a state actually threatened with collapse would be capable of.