Dr. Steven Best’s Theory of “Total Liberation”

The Space Jockey (the Biomechanical Corpse)

Here is Dr. Steven Best’s theory of “Total Liberation,” exposited in the extended quote below.  Best, who achieved some notoriety for his collaborations with Douglas Kellner writing introductory handbooks for continental postmodernism in the 1990s, is now one of the most outspoken voices among the animal liberation community.

The following is taken from his website, authored by Steven Best: Continue reading

The Cowardice of the Closed Comment Policy: On Nonhuman Slavery’s Unwillingness to Engage with Dissent

Meat Inspection, Early Twentieth Century

The editors of the popular vegan/animal rights site On Nonhuman Slavery have recently elected to change their comment policy.  They thus write:

We have decided to return to a comment-free format for this website. With all the misconceptions, anger and fear surrounding animal rights, one of our primary goals is to provide a place of quiet reflection in order to give readers who may not be familiar with these concepts room to explore without the “noise” of  hostile posts from defensive animal exploiters and the contentious arguments which typically ensue.

It was never our intention to serve as another forum for debate (there are plenty of those already), but rather, to present a variety of anti-speciesist arguments, texts and presentations in a safe way which hopefully sparks interest and inspires readers to pursue further study and contemplation on their own.

Thanks for your understanding and continued readership. As always, if you have any feedback, please feel free to email:


Of course it’s their own choice, and they have every right to make it, since it is their website.  But their characterization of any comments or criticisms that challenge their own ideology of anti-speciesism and animal rights as just “the ‘noise’ of  hostile posts from defensive animal exploiters” paints everyone who fails to accept the blinding “truth” of political and ethical veganism as just callous exploiters making excuses for themselves.  They thereby close off any opportunity for dialogue, denying from the outset that there are any legitimate grounds for opposition to the arguments and claims that they make.

Chicago Meat Inspection, 1906

Now I hesitate to accuse them of cowardice, but the fact of the matter is that I had been recently engaging their posts by offering what I would consider an idiosyncratic, Marxist critique of vegan politics.  The entries in which I stated my position at length can be found here and here.  My comments are the ones authored by Ben Rosenblum, a nom de guerre that I adopted for myself some time ago.  As you will see, none of the arguments I made were insulting or offensive.  I was both eager and earnest in wanting to hear cogent counterarguments to the criticisms I raised.

Just to give a “taste” of what this dialogue consisted of, I will post the following interchange, in which I politely and respectfully staked out my position:

Well, I’m not going to be personally hurting any animals myself (unless I’m attacked by one), but I will continue to eat meat and use non-meat animal products. After all, you can’t have paradise without the Land of Milk and Honey. Just kidding, but still…I like consuming those products.

Why? Because the consumer choice I make is irrelevant to whether any particular animal lives or dies or even suffers. The consumer choices of vegans, their boycott on animal products, has no influence over the economy of animal death and exploitation either.

And that’s because capitalism has virtually nothing to do with supply and demand, and because the consumer is basically powerless under this system anyway. The meat industry, like any industry under capitalism, is producing for the sake of production, not for consumption. The whole system is built on perpetual crisis brought on by nearly compulsive overproduction. As Marx explains, the flipside of production is not consumption, but the circulation of commodities. And the meat industry will continue to employ the most advanced and efficient means available to minimize input and maximize output, to speed up the turnover rate. So if demand drops, the price of meat will plummet…which means that consumers will rush head over heels to buy it all up. And look, the meat industry still turns a profit.

The inevitable answer I hear to this is: “So what then? Simply do nothing?”

To this I answer: accept the social conditions that exist at present. Only a massive political act can enable such a transformation of those conditions. Until that happens, it really doesn’t matter what consumptive choices you make. Most of you wouldn’t personally go over to China and force children in sweatshops to produce your clothes and sneakers. But in all likelihood all of you wear or at least own many products that have their origin in the massive exploitation of child labor. If you are rich enough to afford not to, then good for you. But again, it won’t make a damn difference whether you choose to consume those products or not.

To this, Jo Tyler composed an equally calm and considerate response:

Ben, when you consume animal products you are harming and killing animals for your own pleasure. Whether you are the one pulling the trigger or not, you are responsible for their suffering and death. To assume otherwise is delusional.

It seems to me you are attempting to hide behind your political theories in order to justify your continued participation in the needless exploitation of animals. (Many pro-human slavery supporters made similar arguments at the time.) But it’s evident from your post that the real reason you continue to harm animals is that you “like it.”

Can I ask you: Is that really an ethical justification? After all, a rapist might “like” raping a woman…but that doesn’t make it ok, does it?

As for your sweatshop analogy — True, it’s nearly impossible to live in the modern world without causing indirect harm to another being somewhere. The idea is to cause the least amount of harm and to avoid the obviously immoral products and situations. I would not knowingly choose products that had come from abusive sweatshops. (Would you?) And I would not knowingly choose products that came from slaughterhouses or slave “farms.” Fortunately, it’s very easy to identify those products. They are: all meats, dairy products, eggs and seafood.

Acknowledging the sincerity of her response, I thus replied:

You make some a heartfelt argument, but I think you missed the central point of my contention. Consumption does not deal on a one-to-one basis with production; supply and demand never balance out. Capitalism only cares about “demand backed by the ability to pay,” as Marx put it, and an intense overproduction of meat combined with a market deficiency in the demand for meat will only cause an acute crisis (affecting other areas of the economy as well) that cuts down the relative rate of surplus-value. The price of meat will be driven down absurdly, and hence those who do eat meat will scramble to buy it up. Demand shoots up again, and the meat industry is buoyed up once again.

Exactly the same number of animals will be killed, if not more, since the meat industry will be frantically trying to produce more meat in order to realize the same amount of surplus-value they would have achieved from a market where meat had originally been in higher demand.

So what I’m saying is that my choice to eat meat has virtually nothing to do with the reasons that led up to that animal’s death, just as my decision (conscious or not) to buy clothes produced under conditions of gross exploitation has nothing to do with the reason those workers were exploited. Not to mention the fact that the fruits, vegetables, and grains you consume are often imported from countries where these products were gathered under extremely degrading and exploitation of labor. The same thing can be said of the meat industry as well, but the point is that suffering takes place no matter how you “slice” it.

And just for those who feel virtuous enough that they only buy from local farms, which supposedly don’t produce under conditions of exploitation, or if the only clothes you wear are artisanally produced under the old system of home production, you’re either living 300 years ago or you have enough cash (from somewhere, God knows) to burn on a supposedly “ethical” lifestyle that has been anachronistic for centuries.

Sorry for the rant, but this is just how how capitalism works. And no, there cannot an “ethical,” “equitable” capitalism.

Discussion never really got more heated than that.  And yet now I see, only a few days later, that they have subsequently closed off comments for the rest of their posts.  This just a guess, but my suspicion is that they wanted to silence a strong, sincere voice of opposition who backed his own position with solid arguments.  It’s the only thing I can really think of that would compel them to take this action.  They may claim to “give voice to the voiceless,” but they certainly don’t seem to be interested in talking to me.

Man and Nature, Part III: An Excursus into the Structuralist Opposition of Nature and Culture

Still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

The basic distinction between “nature” and “culture” — that fundamental opposition so central to Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist anthropology[1] — has been denied, deconstructed, and dissolved countless times by post-structuralist scholars and intellectuals.  But in this respect, it is hardly the only binary to have been so challenged — man/woman, inside/outside, and self/other have all similarly come under attack.  The reality of such distinctions, they say, is far less certain, and far more ambiguous, than the structuralists would have us believe.  An absolute division between any of these pairs, they argue, cannot therefore be established.

And there is undeniably something to the blurring of this distinction: after all, is man (historically associated with culture and civilization) not also an animal? Darwin’s theory of evolution proved definitively man’s derivation from more primitive animal species.  It could thus not be denied that man is simply one species amongst many.  Humanity can claim no special status separate from these other species, by dint of some sort of divine creation or other fantasy.  And so also can humanity not maintain any sort of special dominion over all the rest of nature, as suggested by Judeo-Christian mythology.[2] By what right, then, ask the environmentalists, can mankind dominate and exploit the whole of nature? Humans have no special privilege — at an ethical level — over and above any other sentient animals.  It is unethical, therefore, to live at the expense of other sentient beings, or to intrude upon their natural environment.  Would this not constitute a form of speciesism?

But this argument cuts both ways.  For how is it that the actions of this animal, mankind, be considered so wholly unnatural? After all, it might be justifiably pointed out that all biological organisms exploit their environment, to the extent that they can.  Those species that do not adequately exploit their environment or find their way into an environment in which they can, simply go extinct.  So when environmental activists protest the exploitation of nature by human beings, the argument could be made that we are simply doing what all other organisms do.  We just happen to be especially good at it.  Might it not even be human “nature” to ruthlessly exploit and dominate the rest of nature? In the end, human beings are exceptionally gifted in terms of their ability to think systematically, understand the relationship between means and ends, and contrive complex devices to use as tools to manipulate the environment.  It is as if evolution produced an animal capable of conquering nature in its entirety, and that mankind is merely exercising the gifts bestowed on it by nature.

Continue reading

Environmentalism and the So-Called “Green Scare”: An Ideological Critique

The Idea of the Perpetual Forest, 1923

Will Potter, the self-styled alternative journalist and author of the blog Green is the New Red, has recently taken issue with the presentation of environmental activist criminals alongside neo-Nazis and anti-abortion activists.  The blog, whose content usually amounts to little more than accusations of hypocrisy and appeals to common sense, suggests that the reason for this invidious association is corporate interests “polluting” the spirit of democracy through lobbying groups operating in Washington.

It actually shouldn’t come as so much of a surprise, however, that environmentalists should be listed alongside neo-Nazis as prisoners, in terms of their ideology (that is, if they are not grouped according to the crimes they committed).  After all, Nazism and fascism in general promoted a number of policies and philosophical outlooks that are today considered “progressive” by the soft left and mainstream environmentalism.  They introduced the concept of environmental sustainability and often advocated a sort of vitalistic respect for Nature considered in itself, as some sort of untouched wilderness paradise or Dauerwald.  They saw natural sites like the Black Forest as the Ursprung of the Teutonic spirit, uncorrupted by modern society and its economic form of capitalism, which they associated with cosmopolitanism, decadent urbanism, and Jewry.  Of course, a lot of this Germanic naturalist horseshit has been unwittingly “recycled” and reprocessed by the present-day environmentalist movement, which still fancies itself to be extremely forward-thinking and anti-establishment.

It actually makes much less sense that an anti-abortion terrorist would be mentioned in the same breath as a neo-Nazi, ideologically speaking.  Fascism, especially in its NSDAP strain, supported forced sterilization and mandatory abortion procedures as part of its eugenicist program of racial hygiene.  Anti-abortion extremists may be religious lunatics, but they wouldn’t be caught dead with a neo-Nazi.  “Radical” environmentalism is far more compatible with Nazism than the pro-life fringe.

So it would seem that the only legitimate basis for Will Potter’s objection is that the environmentalists are being associated with murderers, not specifically anti-abortion or anti-semitic murderers.  McGowan and the SHAC 7 have been imprisoned for the destruction of property, not the destruction of life, as with Furrow and Waagner.  But the ideologies involved would seem to be irrelevant, since at an ideological level environmentalists would have far more in common with neo-Nazis than anti-abortion fanatics.  I’m not sure why Potter feels it’s even necessary to mention them.

I suspect the point he is trying to get at is that apparently “left-wing” anti-corporate/anti-capitalist activists are being unfairly equated with right-wing terrorists who are guilty of far worse crimes.  The nature of their crimes notwithstanding, however, this takes for granted the idea that animal rights advocates and environmentalists are actually part of the political Left.  From an historical perspective, on the contrary, it would be seen that environmentalism is politically ambiguous and that a great deal of its ideology has been inherited from romantic nationalist currents in the 19th century and more recently from mass right-wing movements like fascism.  A leftist position that was less politically confused would see the goal of society and humanity in general as the self-conscious global mastery of nature, not the dangerously haphazard and chaotic hyperexploitation of the environment, as things currently stand.  But not the flimsy and shallow anti-corporate rhetoric that’s peddled today by most environmentalists.

To close with a reflection on the site’s premise, a few words might be said.  Potter’s main contention on the site is that the Green environmentalist and animal rights movement is suffering persecution akin to that experienced by Communists during the famous “Red Scares” of the 1920s and 1950s.  Besides the obvious point that the parallels Potter sees are exaggerated and overblown, it strikes me as exceptionally ironic that a website whose mission statement insists that “Together, we can stop they cycle of history repeating itself” can be so oblivious of its own movement’s history.

For now, however, we might even grant Potter that this so-called “Green Scare” does constitute a repetition of sorts.  But for this sort of repetition, no observation is more apt than Marx’s when he recalls in his Eighteenth Brumaire that

Hegel remarks somewherethat all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The Red Scares of the ’20s and ’50s possess a tragic aspect, particularly the former.  By contrast, the “Green Scare” of recent years appears farcical.  The Animal Liberation Front for the Bolsheviks, Daniel McGowan for Leon Trotskii, the Green for the Red.