Last year, I was interviewed by the German animal rights magazine Tierbefreiung (Animal Liberation). It was published in the Summer issue of the magazine, a theme issue about animal agency (Tierliche Agency) (in German).
Here’s the interview in English.
Dear Geertrui, first of all, thank you very much for your time. Would you please introduce yourself to our readers? And how did you come to deal with “animal issues”?
I live near Bruges, in Belgium, where together with my husband I take care of several adopted animals. I’m 50 years old.
I got involved in animal activism in the second half of the nineties, in my twenties. I had graduated in criminology and in environmental sciences and had participated in some animal rights actions, like against the use of other animals in scientific experimentation. One day, I picked up a second hand copy of the Dutch translation of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. I think that was the first time I heard of speciesism, and it sparked my interest in animal issues and human-animal studies. In that same period I became vegetarian and started exploring ecofeminism. One of the first books I read was Animals & Women. Feminist Theoretical Explorations edited by Carol Adams and Josephine Donovan and it opened a new world for me, realising how all forms of oppression and discrimination are connected and how animal rights and human rights issues are all connected. After graduating, I was a researcher at the Criminology Department of the University, and so the idea developed of doing my doctoral research on human-animal issues. That led to my PhD on anthropocentrism and speciesism in criminology. After that, I worked in youth care for a couple of years, and then later as a policy advisor at the Department of Agriculture of Flanders. I became vegan around 2009-2010.
Today I don’t work anymore, at least I am not ‘professionally’ engaged anymore. Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases and since a couple of years, it became too difficult for me to work fulltime or even part-time because of these chronic diseases. I try to be as active as I can though, and consider myself an animal rights activist and total liberation activist, although I hardly participate in traditional forms of activism like demonstrations and such. But there are many other ways in which one can be an activist. I write about veganism and animal rights on my platforms Graswortels – that’s the literal Dutch translation of grassroots – and on the Bruges vegan – more restaurant reviews and food stuff, but also about animal liberation and veganism in general. I’m also a city ambassador for Happy Cow. A bit over two years ago, I started the platform Crip Humanimal, where I want to explore the interconnections between speciesism and ableism, or animal liberation and disability liberation. ‘Crip’ is a slur for cripple, but is now reclaimed by disabled persons, as part of the process of disability pride. For example ‘cripping’ animal studies, means applying a disability justice lens to it. The book Beasts of Burden by Sunaura Taylor, was in that respect really an eye-opener for me. The interconnections between speciesism and other forms of discrimination and oppression have been extensively explored, e.g. between speciesism and sexism in ecofeminism and between speciesism and racism by authors like Breeze Harper and Aph & Syl Ko, but the overlap and interconnections with ableism are just recently coming into the picture. As I also identify as disabled myself, this really interests me. So, on Crip Humanimal I want to explore those issues. And I also post interviews with disabled or chronically ill vegans and animal rights activists. They are often marginalised in the animal rights community/ in society in general, and I think it is really important that their perspective is heard, so I want to give them a platform on Crip Humanimal. I have also edited two books about animal issues (in Dutch): Mensen en Andere Dieren in 2001 and in 2020 Een Ander Soort Zuster, a collection of essays, interviews and illustrations from animal rights activist women in Flanders and the Netherlands.
Has your thinking about non-human animals changed over the years?
Yes, I think it has changed. Two things have changed. Well, the first is maybe not so much about how I view other animals, but more to do with the sort of activism that I support. In the early stages of my activism – although I advocated for the rights of other animals – I also supported campaigns that had a welfarist scope, like for example campaigns for sedation during slaughter or better housing and transport conditions of animals kept in the Animal Industrial Complex. But animal welfarism is not the same – and even at odds with animal rights. It implicitly condones the use of other animals, as long as it is done in a ‘humane’ or ‘friendly’ manner, but doesn’t question the use of other animals as such. I don’t want a better treatment of other animals in food production, entertainment and in other domains where animals are used by humans, I want to end that use and exploitation. And I feel that such welfarist campaigns or measures also hinder the road to animal rights, as they make the use of other animals more ‘acceptable’, because it is done humanely. In a similar vein, I favour campaigns and activism that centre veganism above one day in a week veggie or vegetarian or such campaigns. I realise many people don’t make the switch to veganism overnight, and I applaud any steps, but for ethical reasons I cannot advocate for anything less than veganism. And also pragmatically: if even vegans don’t put veganism on the table, who will?
Animal welfarism implicitly condones the use of other animals, as long as it is done in a ‘humane’ or ‘friendly’ manner, but doesn’t question the use of other animals as such. I don’t want a better treatment of other animals in food production, entertainment and in other domains where animals are used by humans, I want to end that use and exploitation.Geertrui Cazaux
My perspective on other animals and animal liberation has definitely changed by recognizing and acknowledging the role other animals themselves play in their liberation and how they fight against their exploitation. They are not passive recipients, subjects, waiting to be ‘saved’, ‘rescued’ and ‘liberated’ by humans, but they also actively resist their use and abuse. I think their role and their agency, their active contribution in their own liberation struggle, has been mainly overlooked in animal advocacy. We need to be really careful that our activism doesn’t turn into human saviourism, in which the focus lies more on the role of the human ‘saviours’ than on the liberatory struggle of the animals. It’s not about us, but about them.
A couple of years ago I read the book Fear of the Animal Planet, by Jason Hribal, in which he documents story after story of other animals resisting their exploitation, by escaping, by fighting back, by other acts of everyday resistance. When I see media reports of escaped cows, pigs, or tigers or orcas who have attacked their handlers in circuses and entertainment parks, I see them in a totally different light now. There are plenty of such stories in popular media. The dominant narrative of such stories is that they are ‘occasional’ accidents, that they are very rare and exceptional. Or the media or the Animal Industrial Complex will blame the handlers in not being professionally trained enough or having made a mistake, or claim that the fencing was not secure enough. Or they will frame the retaliating or escaping animals as having ‘gone crazy’ or ‘mad’, which also has an ableist component. While most often it’s absolutely normal behaviour for animals, if you take into consideration that they have been abused for years and years on end, it’s normal that they fight back and resist and even retaliate. But in framing these as ‘occasional accidents’ or ‘crazy animals’, the animals are ripped of their agency, and the focus is also turned away from the structural exploitation, the system in which animals are turned into objects for food, entertainment, and such. So we should really try to bring those stories and the agency of those animals more to the forefront. They have the potential to change the mindset of the general public about other animals and their use, by documenting that they are not just number 7.000.000, but are an individual animal wanting to live, not wanting to be taken to the slaughterhouse, not willing to be imprisoned, not willing to perform tricks.
We need to be careful that our activism doesn’t turn into human saviourism, in which the focus lies more on the role of the human ‘saviours’ than on the liberatory struggle of the animals. It’s not about us, but about them.Geertrui Cazaux
Coverage of these stories of animal resistance can also be the starting point of structural change. That happened for example after the worldwide coverage of the story of Tyke. Tyke was an African elephant who was taken from her natural habitat at a very early age and shipped to the US, to perform in the entertainment industry. After a lifetime of being chained and confined, forcefully ‘trained’ to perform tricks, she resisted in 1994, during a circus show in Honululu, Hawaii, killing a trainer and handler. This happened before a packed audience, and was filmed. She ran from the circus tent to the streets, trying to escape, but eventually she was enclosed by police cars and shot to death, it took more than 80 bullets. There’s also footage of Tyke going down and dying, and bystanders crying. This story was covered my media worldwide and gave momentum to campaigns to end the use of wild animals for entertainment, with several cities banning the circuses with wild animals and sanctuaries for wild animals who had been used in the entertainment industry, e.g. elephants, opening.
If you want to look further into these issues I really recommend the recent book Animal Resistance by Sarat Collin, it’s just been out a couple of months. This book has a more theoretical grounding than Hribal’s and also explores how other oppressions like racism and such are all connected with the fight against speciesism.
So yes, my perspective has changed. We are not here to save the animals, because the animals are already trying very hard to save themselves, although humans make it very difficult for them. They are not objects waiting for us humans to go and save them and to rescue them. Our efforts and activism can easily turn into ‘human saviourism’ and then it’s not really about the animals anymore but about centring ourselves. There are parallels with white saviourism and also able body saviourism; white people and able bodied people helping and ‘saving’ persons of colour and disabled persons from oppression, and meanwhile showing off what a good person they really are for ‘helping’ them. The idea of ‘saving them from themselves’ can also be a motivator, knowing what is best for the oppressed group, while silencing and denying their agency. I am not saying this is the case for all animal activism or activists, there are plenty who don’t do this, and really have the animals’ interests at heart and centre other animals. But sometimes the narrative of saviourism can creep in implicitly; for example when we portray other animals as beings who rely on us to be saved or rescued. The danger is that by doing such, we are denying their agency, portraying them more as objects than as subjects, and perpetuating the dominant speciesist paradigm. Other animals do resist their oppression and we as animal rights advocates are their allies in their fight against that oppressions. We are not their saviours but their allies. That’s really what it comes down to. And these stories of animal resistance have the potential to highlight their agency.
There are parallels with white saviourism and also able body saviourism; white people and able bodied people helping and ‘saving’ persons of colour and disabled persons from oppression, and meanwhile showing off what a good person they really are for ‘helping’ them.Geertrui Cazaux
Among other things, you deal with the representation of non-human animals. Why do you think this is important for the animal rights and animal liberation movement to shift the way we represent other animals in our campaigns or in our books or whatever. Do you think it is important for our movements to change the way we represent other animals?
While the representation of other animals – in popular culture, in advertising, in literature and other arts, and also in language doesn’t directly harm or use any animals, I do think it is very important to address this, and challenge the dominant speciesist representations of other animals. They are not only a manifestation of the speciesist political, economic and societal institutions that make up the Animal Industrial Complex, but they also consolidate and perpetuate that speciesist ideology on which the Animal Industrial Complex is built. When you want to change society, and how animals are used in that society, we not only need to change the economic and political realities that affect other animals, but also change the cultural hegemony – as Gramsci called it. Cultural hegemony is like a cultural consciousness, and the dominant political and economic class determine what is ‘natural and normal’. And after a while that cultural consciousness is so entrenched, so unconsciously approved by society as a whole, that it is considered ‘common sense’. However, there is a constant political and economic battle over that ‘common sense’, with counternarratives emerging, and eventually some will become the new ‘common sense’. Popular culture, literature, language etc play a very important part here. It is for example ‘common sense’ that other animals are food, and that eating them is necessary and normal. And that belief is perpetuated in discursive practices: in advertising, children’s books, toys, popular culture and also in our language. Think of speciesist terminology like ‘humans and animals’ ‘higher animals and lower animals’, speciesist proverbs or euphemisms for killing animals (destroying, sacrificing, culling, …). They are all instances through which that common sense is both reproduced and consolidated. If we want to achieve a non-speciesist society in which animal rights are respected, we need a new ‘common sense’, a new cultural consciousness with respect to how we see and treat other animals, and the representation of other animals plays a major role in that.
And a note about language use: I try to avoid ‘nonhuman animals’, but prefer ‘other animals’. In my PhD I consistently used ‘animals other than human animals’ or the acronym ‘aothas’. I know both nonhuman animals and other animals have their issues. It’s one thing to identify speciesist language, but it’s another thing to try to find a suitable alternative, as after all, we are humans and look at the world from our human perspective. I don’t like ‘nonhuman animals’ because it defines other animals by who they are not, and positions humans too much as the centre. It is very anthropocentric. It would be like defining women as nonmale humans. On the other hand, I do realize that ‘other animals’ is also otherizing animals, but I like that it stresses humans and animals are both animals.
If we want to achieve a non-speciesist society in which animal rights are respected, we need a new ‘common sense’, a new cultural consciousness with respect to how we see and treat other animals, and the representation of other animals plays a major role in that.Geertrui Cazaux
I think sometimes we focus too much on the case of suffering. That does not mean that I don’t want to end the suffering of animals and humans, but sometimes we reduce animals to their capacity to suffer and miss the point that they are agents of their own life. So, I think saying ‘end the suffering’ is problematic, but what’s next?
The focus on suffering fits in a welfarist perspective and can be dangerous because it can legitimise the ‘humane’ use of other animals. It doesn’t necessarily challenge the use of other animals in se. Animals can be held captive and be bred for ‘food’ without suffering: they can be treated well, be fed appropriately, have enough space, have a good life and a ‘humane death’. But in the end they are still robbed of their freedom, their reproduction choices and their life is prematurely taken from them. So that’s still denying the animals their own agency to live their own life. That’s the core difference between a welfare approach and an animal rights approach, I think.
And this also doesn’t lead to a shift in speciesist thinking. For example in Germany there is a circus that has banned animals from their shows, but they use elephant holograms instead. That’s OK for the elephants who are not used in this circus anymore. But when I go to the circus and see a hologram of an elephant doing fantastic things, it doesn’t shift my thinking about elephants, because I also see it is OK to use animals in such shows.
Indeed, I also used that example in my presentation at the IARC in 2019. That ‘animal friendly’ alternative was applauded by many animal rights activists as a great idea and improvement. Of course I agree that it’s a huge improvement for the elephants and other animals that they are no longer held captive and don’t have to perform and do tricks anymore. That’s great! But using the images of animals doing tricks still rests on a speciesist assumption and consolidates a speciesist way of thinking. In my presentation, I made the analogy with the use of disabled people in so-called ‘freaks shows’ a century ago. I’m really careful with making analogies with struggles and oppressions of other marginalized groups, because this can be quite confrontational and upsetting. So I’m not saying their struggle or the oppression is the same, or that disabled people are like animals, but there are some analogies in the way these oppressions operate and how both animals and disabled people were treated throughout history. In these so-called ‘freak shows’ disabled people displayed their bodies, sometimes also doing tricks. And they were sometimes animalized, given animal names, for example a woman with a lot of hair growth was called ‘the baboon woman’ or there was also the “elephant man” a classic example that everybody knows well. Today, such shows would be considered disrespectful and ableist, because it violates the rights of disabled people. And even if it would not involve the physical bodies of disabled persons, but the show would use holograms of disabled people doing tricks, that would also be considered ableist and disrespectful towards disabled people.
Using the images of animals doing tricks still rests on a speciesist assumption and consolidates a speciesist way of thinking.Geertrui Cazaux
The images I saw of the circus using holograms of animals were of an elephant doing tricks and of horses running around in a circle. That still frames other animals as being there to perform for us, doing tricks for us. When for example children see this, they still grow up with the idea that other animals are here to perform for us, it fosters the mindset that that is normal, it is ‘common sense’. And then it facilitates the transition to actually using other animals for entertainment.
I think holograms can definitely have an added value though, when they for example show images of other animals in their natural environment, of their natural behaviour. But not of them doing tricks.
And in the EU there is discussion about the naming of plant based products, for example ‘plant based milk’ or creating ‘plant based meat’ and stuff like that. You also talked about that in your presentation at the IARC. Is it a good idea to replace the flesh and the meat of animals with plant based products that really look like those animals? You mentioned the example of vegan scampi I think.
First, I want to say I really like eating those things, most of them are yummie! And second, I also understand that things like ‘vegan scampi’, ‘vegan chicken’, ‘vegan fish’ can also be really helpful for non-vegans who want to try to cook something vegan, because they are very recognizable. A piece of ‘vegan chicken’ or ‘vegan scampi’ can be very easy to veganize traditional dishes, they fit in our food culture, and it’s really easy to cook that way. So they can lower the treshhold for people to start cooking vegan, to try vegan recipes.
There’s also a distinction between things like a burger or a sausage, or even milk. I think those are just forms, shapes that are not necessarily animal based and can just as well be – and hopefully one day they will all be – plantbased. Those are just easy shapes, handy to use in the kitchen: it’s easier to fry a burger and a sausage, than for example a star or a cube, it’s easier to put a sausage or burger in a bun, than a rectangle! So, evidently, I don’t agree with the animal industry that terms like plant-based products cannot be called a burger or a sausage. Again, this is a fight for the ‘common sense’, with counternarratives emerging, but to preserve their economic interests, the Animal Industrial Complex wants to hold on to the traditional ‘common sense’.
There is a difference however with products like ‘vegan chicken’, ‘vegan scampi’, ‘vegan turkey’ and so on. I have also seen vegan ‘lobster’ as well. Those are the shapes of animals who have been killed, who have been exploited, who have suffered enormously to become that shape. Take for example the classic shape of a ‘turkey’: it’s the carcass of a bird, plucked, no feathers left, and the head and feet are chopped of. There are ‘vegan turkey’ products that resemble this shape. I have also seen this ‘turkey’ in a chocolate shape, made by a Belgian vegan chocolatier, and the vegan chocolate turkey could be ‘stuffed’ with ice-cream. Maybe you think there is no harm in this, because there is no actual animal being used or hurt. But it perpetuates a ‘common sense’ that it is OK to use animals in that way. It consolidates the image of a turkey as a decapitated, featherless plucked bird, as ‘a product’ that can be stuffed. When people hear the words ‘turkey’, ‘scampi’ or ‘salmon’, the first image that should pop up in their minds is the image of the living animal in all their glory, with feathers, with scales, running or swimming freely in their natural habitat. Not the image of an edible piece of meat. Even when you are the most experienced and informed animal rights activist, when one is confronted with such speciesist discursive practices in culture on a day to day basis, it does implicitly make an impact on how you view other animals, on your ideological framework. And this is of course especially the case for children. If you say the word ‘scampi’ to a child and the only thing they can associate it with is a ‘curved worm like’ shape, that has no scales and no head and tail, and is edible, that imprints a speciesist mindset.
I also have – and probably unknowingly still do – internalised such speciesist images. Up until a couple of years ago, when I heard the word salmon, the image that immediately came to mind was that of pink, sliced filets with white lines running through it. Up until well in adulthood, I didn’t even know what a salmon – the actual fish – looked like and couldn’t distinguish a salmon from a herring or other fish species. A lobster for example is all but red and doesn’t live with a tail curved beneath their body, it gets red and curved from being boiled, but that’s the dominant image that most people have when you say ‘lobster’.
So I think we should really reconsider the use of such speciesist images, and try to move away from them, because I think they perpetuate a speciesist mindset. Not only in the way they are shaped, but also in the naming of these products. ‘Lobster‘, ‘scampi’, ‘turkey’ should not be associated with food products, not even plant based ones. Again, I love to eat some of those products, but I prefer to call them by their ingredients, for example soy pieces, seitan, cognac rolls, to make the plant based ingredient the standard, the new ‘common sense’.
It consolidates the image of a turkey as a decapitated, featherless plucked bird, as ‘a product’ that can be stuffed. When people hear the words ‘turkey’, ‘scampi’ or ‘salmon’, the first image that should pop up in their minds is the image of the living animal in all their glory, with feathers, with scales, running or swimming freely in their natural habitat. Not the image of an edible piece of meat.
If we take non-human animals seriously as actors, does that mean that we should emphasize their own resistance to their use in the animal-industrial complex differently? And how can we do this?
I think it is important to centre the stories of the animals themselves because, like I said earlier, it can lead people to have more empathy with that particular animal who has resisted, who tried to escape, who retaliated and even bring structural changes. And show that those animals are agents, not objects. So the first thing to do is to actually bring those stories to the forefront. There are already a couple of organisations or platforms who focus on that. There is the Facebook page ‘Animal Resistance’ that documents those cases on a regular basis. There is also an Italian page ‘Resistenza Animale’. I’m trying to document cases of animal resistance on my page Graswortels as well (see this album). And I’m increasingly seeing animal rights organizations documenting such stories. And also bring these stories from the animal’s point of view. When for example an animal living in the wild has attacked humans, media will frame this as an intrusion on the lives of humans. Take for example the recent case where a bear in Romania supposedly ‘left the forest’ to come onto the ski slopes and run after and harrass the skiers. The counternarrative – from the bear’s perspective – is that the bear’s habitat was destroyed by the construction of the ski slopes, and the bear is simply defending his home.
Animal sanctuaries also play an important role and they are also a perfect space to present a counternarrative about the lives of chickens, cows, pigs and other animals. We need more spaces where escaped animals can find refuge. Also, when advocating for the closure of dolphinariums or other entertainment businesses using animals, there need to be sanctuaries where these animals can go to, since often they cannot be rehabilitated to their natural habitat anymore, because either that doesn’t exist anymore, or because the animals lack the abilities to survive in it.
Since the middle of the 1990’s there is one particular group in Germany documenting the escapes and resistance of animals. But in their communication, they also say that they like it when animals kill humans during their resistance. I think this can be dangerous, because sometimes it sounds like they hate humans.
Yes, I sometimes also see that, for example in the comments on stories of animal resistance where a human is injured or killed. Recently there was a story of a rooster in India who was used in cock fighting, and the rooster managed to escape one way or another, and one of the knives attached to the legs of the rooster cut his handler or – speciesistically called – ‘owner’ in the groin and he bled to death. Such stories often evoke a lot of hurray cheering or ‘karma’ and ‘good riddance’ reactions among animal advocates. In a way, I can understand them, but I regret to see such reactions. Yes, I acknowledge that the actions of people working in the animal industrial complex, of people who use animals for entertainment, are horrible, that they are speciesist. But I don’t endorse celebrating the death of humans. Most often, those actions are culturally condoned. They are brought up in a speciesist culture, just like I was brought up in a speciesist culture and I ate and used other animals growing up and well into adulthood. I became vegetarian in the mid 90ies and I became vegan around 2010 so I know where they are coming from. And many people working in a slaughterhouse don’t do this for pleasure, but are forced because of their socio-economic situation. I realise that in some cases the use of animals is more than just culturally or economically informed and some people really knowingly and deliberately hurt other animals, and find pleasure in doing so. But I don’t believe in an ‘eye for an eye’ kind of justice, but support more restorative justice frameworks. I see similar ‘karma’ reactions at stories of people who died of food poisoning after eating meat and such, and it really makes me cringe. It can be good to vent your frustrations, but in the end I think it might even be counterproductive in advocacy. I don’t think the families and friends of those who lost their life will change their mind about animal rights or veganism after reading such comments, on the contrary.
Another thing we need to be careful about when we focus on stories of animal resistance is that some people will use those stories to legitimize the use of the animals who don’t resist, who haven’t escaped. The animals who escape are considered special, and their lives should be speared. And for the animals who are left behind, then it implicitly becomes their own fault that they are being slaughtered, since they didn’t resist, they didn’t escape. That sometimes happens when animals who escape are awarded a ‘hero status’. That happened for example with the cow who escaped in Poland a while back. She was going to be taken to the slaughterhouse, but managed to escape and she ran away, and eventually reached a lake and she swam to an island in the lake. They tried to recapture her several times, but she remained a ‘fugitive’. Her story went viral and she was named ‘cow Hero’. It can be dangerous to only focus on that one particular animal, who is then considered brave and courageous, while the others who didn’t manage to escape are then implicitly not brave and courageous and don’t deserve to be spared. By the way, after a couple of weeks of freedom, ‘cow hero’ was going to be taken to live on a sanctuary, but she died during transport. It is believed the stress from the capture caused a heart attack.
A few years ago, there where groups founded like “Anonymous for the Voiceless”. I don’t want to talk about these groups, I know there is a lot of criticism because of their racist and sexist approach sometimes. But I’m referring to one of their slogans and also a slogan that is often used in the animal rights movement which is ‘we are the voice of the voiceless’. Do you think that is a term we should use in our communication and what does it say about our thinking of animals when we are saying ‘we are the voice of the voiceless’?
This draws back to what I said earlier about how we represent other animals, and how in a speciesist cultural framing or cultural hegemony their agency is denied. This not only happens in images, but also in language. So, I think using ‘voiceless’ to refer to other animals is indeed one of those instances where we actually deny the agency of other animals. Other animals are not voiceless. They do have a voice, they communicate with each other, they have language, culture. And when you refer to them as voiceless, you ignore that. And it can also feed a saviourist mindset. There is a famous quote by political activist Arundhati Roy who says ‘There’s really no such thing as ‘the voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard‘.‘ Voiceless’ is not only used referring to other animals, it is sometimes also used with respect to other oppressed groups, for example disabled people or women are sometimes also seen as ‘voiceless’. But they are not really voiceless. The oppressors just don’t want to listen to their voices or they actively suppress their voices. I know animal activists who insist on using this term claim that it is used metaphorically, realising that other animals can talk, but that humans are their ‘voice’ in the political and societal arena. But even when used metaphorically one is still perpetuating, consolidating the idea that animals have no voice, no agency. Sunaura Taylor writes about it in her book Beasts of Burden: ‘it gives power to those who want to view animals as “mindless objects.”‘. Another way of presenting it would be to say that we bring their voices into debate, or that we are their representatives or translators.
Using ‘voiceless’ to refer to other animals is one of those instances where we actually deny the agency of other animals.Geertrui Cazaux
When we look into the science about animals it is quite clear that they are talking, they communicate in different ways. A friend of mine said ‘why is it the failure of a pig if I can’t talk the language of a pig’.
Yes, of course they have language. Even insects have ways of communicating with each other, but we often we simply don’t understand their forms of communication.
And because we are humans, we use human signs to interpret what animals are doing. For example humans can point with a finger to give a direction, but of course insects cannot do that. But they do give directions. For example bees will dance to indicate which area other bees should fly to, to find food.
You just said that we are not the voice of other animals but maybe we are their representatives in the political sphere. Do you have any idea how we can do this, how we can implement something like a spokesperson for animals in the political sphere?
That’s a really difficult and complicated question. In whatever way it’s going to be implemented, it is always going to be humans who represent other animals. There are always humans involved, because we cannot have other animals participating in like for example a parliament, court or other political or legal structures that humans use to govern and regulate society.
I don’t have enough expertise about this aspect to claim to know the appropriate way to do this. What is important is that the animals’ rights are represented, and that implies going way beyond the animal welfare legislation that currently exists in many countries. It regulates the ‘humane use’ of other animals, but doesn’t question their use. It simply mitigates the excesses of the system, a little bit more space here and there, rules for transportation to the slaughterhouse, but it doesn’t question the system in itself. Advocating for animal rights means advocating for the end of such practises, not fine-tuning the system in which they are exploited. I think we are a long way away from really bringing animal rights into the political arena. There is groundbreaking work done by the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project, but their focus is mainly on the US, which has a totally different legal system than the continental/European legal system. One of the necessary steps is to have animal rights inscribed in the constitution. Another tool that could be used in policy making is for example an animal rights impact assessment, similar to environmental impact assessment impact studies for every policy decision that possibly has an impact on the environment.
This is also a lack in my thinking, because I don’t really know how to represent other animals in the political sphere without being paternalistic, that’s always the problem I think. We also have a spokesperson for women in Germany. But for a long time the spokespersons for women in Germany were men. For animals there’s the added problem that animals are not humans.
We could draw analogies by the way it is regulated for certain disabled persons or for children for example. They are also not directly participating in parliament, in the political process. The key issue I think is correct communication between the party who is represented and the representative, truthfully assessing their needs, their interests. It requires to transcend our human-centredness, anthropocentrism. Of course a certain level of political or epistemological anthropocentrism is inevitable, since we are humans and we can only experience the world as humans. But we have to transcend the normative anthropocentrism, putting ourselves in the centre and as the yardstick of everything. That’s one of the big challenges.
Finally, I would like to thank you again for your time and your answers! Would you like to tell our readers something else at the end of the interview?
One thing I want to add, is that we should focus much more on developing knowledge and strategies for implementing veganic agriculture. We need more agricultural engineers, economists, to support farmers who want to make the transition. There is so much focus on the ‘consumption’ side of the story (making people vegan) based on the implicit idea that if enough people will consume vegan goods, the production side will eventually follow. I think this is seriously flawed, as 1) it doesn’t necessarily lead to a more sustainable food production system and 2) it is still embedded in a capitalistic logic of production/consumption, a system which is disastrous for humans, other animals, nature and the developing climate catastrophe.
And I think we need to reach out to other social justice movements more. I think that’s really lacking on our movement. We need to build bridges with other social justice movements. Because justice is not dividable in parts, it is all connected in the patriarchal, colonial, capitalistic system. Challenging just one part of it the system will not bring the house down.
So the last question, and you also addressed it a bit in your previous reply. What are the next projects you’re planning? You said you want to focus more on veganic agriculture and you also want to do more on Crip Humanimal.
I hope Crip Humanimal can really turn into a hub for topics regarding the connections between ableism and speciesism and animal and disability liberation. I find it really interesting to explore these issues, but I am also relying on other people’s input, for example through guest posts, because I am chronically ill myself and I’m living in crip-time. That’s like ‘living part-time’. Although there are just as many hours in a day for you and for me, I can only use a fraction of those hours for activism, for ‘living’, and on other hours my body needs to rest and recuperate from activities. I have so many ideas for activism, for writing, for projects, but it’s very frustrating that I cannot go ahead full force because of being chronically ill, dealing with pain, chronic fatigue and brain fog. On Crip Humanimal, I also want to give a platform to disabled and otherwise marginalized animal rights activists, and do so by interviewing them, so if there are readers who identify as such, please contact me! I also have ideas for several book projects on human-animal issues and veganism, and one day I hope I can execute them.
Geertrui Cazaux, interview by Tom Zimmerman from Tierbefreiung.
Interview published in German in the Magazine of Tierbefreiung, June 2021, Vol.29, n.111, pp. 24-31.