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


Nature! We are encircled and enclasped by her — powerless to depart from her, and powerless to find our way more deeply into her being. Without invitation and without warning she involves us in the orbit of her dance, and drives us onward until we are exhausted and fall from her arm.


We live in the midst of her, and yet to her we are alien. She parleys incessantly with us, and to us she does not disclose her secret. We influence her perpetually, and yet we have no power over her.

— Goethe, Ode “To Nature”[1]

With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old issue of humanity’s relationship to nature. The proper exposition of the problem requires a great deal of space; therefore, I propose to divide my treatment of the issue into four separate sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it.

After all, the problem of man’s relation to nature has been conceived in a number of distinct ways over the ages, many of which survive into the present day, in various mutations. So perhaps it might be useful to begin with an overview, a genealogy of sorts, so that these different conceptions and their relation to one another can be clarified. The presentation will be dialectical, but not out of any obligation to some artificially preconfigured format. It will be dialectical because the subject at hand is itself really dialectical,[2] as the various conceptions of nature interweave and overlap in their progress through history. For man’s orientation to nature has by no means been the same over time; and by that same token there are no later conceptions of nature that do not bear the traces of those that came before it. Continue reading

On Veganism

The Absurd Moral Casuistry of Ethical Veganism

To be clear, I am not the author of this entry.  I came across this article some time ago, and at that point merely thought it both hilarious and correct.  Since I have now written up my own critique of veganism, and “Green” lifestyle politics in general, I find that this piece provides a nice supplement to my own qualms with dietary ethics, as well as the political positions it implies.  The article is written from a clearly Marxist perspective, and I find myself agreeing with all of the points it makes regarding the nature of capitalism and the falsity of the supply-and-demand model of economics.  The blog on which this was originally published seems to have died out, unfortunately, but I invite readers who enjoy this article to read a follow-up they did to this, now posted on their main page.  And yet, in spite of the truths revealed by this article, some pro-vegan abolitionist websites promote the ridiculous notion that veganism is somehow more “revolutionary” than political Marxism.

Reposted from the Original Piece by the Fighting Words Staff

I’m sure you’ve come across some variant of “with the amount of grain used to fatten animals for human consumption, we could, if we all became vegetarian, eliminate world hunger.” The “case” for veganism suffers from the same limitations particular to consumer politics. In that it fails to understand capitalist production, the “air tight” arguments are shown to be nothing but non-sequiturs.

First, world hunger has nothing to do with scarcity. We continue to produce enough grain and other foodstuffs for human consumption to feed double the human population. Economists who speak of a “grain glut” mean that literally tons of grain is wasted and unused, not because people aren’t in need of it, but because they can’t afford it. Second, it speaks to incredible naiveté to assume that world agribusiness would give away any excess grain left over if the meat industry suddenly collapsed. When I say political veganism doesn’t understand capitalism, this is what I mean.

While there’s nothing wrong with seeing it as simply a moral issue, there is something incredibly obnoxious and self-aggrandizing about puffing out your chest, believing your diet will change the world. While the number of vegetarians and vegans has grown into sizeable minority, you would think that meat consumption would’ve shown a slight decline. But the opposite is true. Total meat consumption has increased. With food costs rising, meat has become more practical (in terms of calorie intake) and affordable. There is absolutely no substance to the claim that going vegan saves any animals. Capitalism does not plan production based on a one to one correspondence of a supply demand. In fact, its key feature is overproduction. A general lowering of demand will then likely mean two things: 1) animals not consumed will just be wasted 2) the price of meat becomes cheaper, increasing total consumption.

There is also no precedent for a boycott strategy that has shut down an entire industry the way it’s being described (and it would require a boycott of all supermarkets and restaurants). That’s because the consumer has very little power. One can “choose” to drive a fuel-efficient car, but can’t choose why cities lack efficient public transportation. One can choose to buy energy efficient light bulbs, but has no say about planned product obsolescence. No one can dispute that the factory farm model creates tremendous amounts of waste, contributing to environmental catastrophe. It does so because capitalism forces every industry to accumulate and capture as much of the market as it can, in the most cost effective way. It functions to maximize profit, not to meet needs or work rationally. So every industry is structured unsustainably.

Continue reading

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