Guestpost by Resistenza Animale Collective for Crip HumAnimal
For some years now, animal liberation activism and critical animal studies fields are interested in animal resistance. Contesting “we-are-the-voice-of-the-voiceless” rhetorics, a patronizing narrative which is widespread among animal rights defenders, some groups and authors emphasize that nonhumans are rebelling against exploitation on a daily basis: they escape from farms, zoos and laboratories, they flee from the trucks going to the slaughterhouse, they attack the trainers in the circuses, they refuse to cooperate, they let themselves die in all the places of confinement. The Italian collective Resistenza Animale (Animal Resistance) has been documenting these rebellions for years and trying to encourage solidarity, alongside a vision of activism in which humans are no longer the heroic saviors of other animals, but fellow fighters located alongside them.
It is no coincidence, probably, that this new approach to animal liberation has aroused interest in the anti-psychiatric movement, fostering opportunities for debate on the intersection between these two struggles. Giuseppe Bucalo, an activist and author who created, in Sicily, support networks for “madmen” free from the interference of institutions and psychiatric knowledge, expressed a strong affinity with animal resistance. According to Bucalo, there are many similarities between, on one side, the control that society operates on those ways of thinking that cannot be traced back to standard rationality, and on the other the control of nonhuman beings who try to disregard the role assigned to them by our society. For example, the astonishment, anxiety and repressive violence aroused by so-called “mentally ill” and fugitive animals in public space are very similar. Sarat Colling’s “Animals without Borders” shows how until recently – and sometimes even today – animals on the run are described as “crazy” or “gone mad” by newspapers.
For Bucalo, the procedures of forced rehabilitation that psychiatry elaborates to regulate the lives of those who do not bow to “normality” are strategies of domestication, with reference to the domestication of animals – from the tiger taught to repeat a series of exercises for the show, to the dog to whom we impose a series of rules of life established by the human master. The case of stray dogs is emblematic. The same Bucalo told that in Sicily he had to ask himself how to intervene – and whether to intervene – in the presence of “without master” dogs. The mentality of mainstream animal rights activism, in the face of a dog wandering in the territory, is often similar to that of psychiatry in the face of the “insane” individual: we see only an “out of place” subject, at the same time dangerous for society and to him/herself, and therefore to be protected without asking what his/her real needs are. This means, in most cases, locking him up in a “madhouse” or in a dog shelter for his/her own good.
In the narratives of the encounters with free dogs or with farmed animals in flight – but also in practices of restraint, sedation or killing – these unexpected subjects are often infantilized and disabled. Even those dogs who freely choose to live forming packs on the margins of human settlements without aiming for the “comfort” of a home, and who do not have any problem of sustenance or health, are considered real victims to be protected, incapable to provide for themselves. A typical example of disabling – in addition to the very concrete one to which non-human prisoners are subjected, whose beak is cut, whose legs are made unusable, whose vocal cords are cut – is that of the many appeals to capture cows who escaped from the slaughterhouse because in the forests “they would not be able to survive”.
Besides being a strictly political issue, it is a matter of communication. The psychiatric apparatus, according to Bucalo, leads us to read the unusual messages of some individuals through the lens of “mental illness”. This leads to seeing conflicts between people where they do not necessarily exist, and, when they exist, to give a reductive reading that prevents us from understanding its nature and from developing a dialogue to resolve it. Similarly, the fact of using simplistic labels such as “runaway horse” or “raging bull” prevents us from catching the expressions of nonhumans’ uneasiness concerning their living conditions. If psychiatry starts from the assumption of an almost ontological distinction between “healthy” and “ill” subjects, condemning the latter to incommunicability, in a similar way speciesism makes nonhumans literally voiceless, despite ethological knowledges and a millennial experience of relationship with domesticated animals, which show that humans and nonhumans are perfectly capable of communicating, if only they wish.
Resistenza Animale is an Italian collective that documents the acts of rebellion of animals on farms, in slaughterhouses, in zoos and in circuses.