“Fear of the Animal Planet – the Hidden History of Animal Resistance,” by Jason Hribal, 2010
In this somewhat poorly-organized book, Hribal nevertheless takes a topic that few have dealt with – basically, what animals think of confinement and overwork. As you might guess, they do not like it any more than humans enjoy a tiny uncomfortable cell or heart attacks. While this might be obvious to vegetarians or environmentalists, it is not to some people. Of course, if you own a dog, or live on a farm, you might have an inkling. Animals think, have feelings like pain, have a social life, have memories, use tools, and have strengths that humans do not, like a dog’s sense of smell, a cheetah’s swiftness, or a gorilla’s strength. In essence, the difference between ‘animals’ and humans is many times quantitative, not qualitative. Marx drew the qualitative distinction at the ability of humans to ‘create’ and produce. However, humans are actually animals too. In spite of this, philosophers like St. Augustine called for the trial and execution of animals for ‘crimes,’ Rene Descartes’ believed that animals were ‘machines’ and Adam Smith thought they were ‘property.’ Of course, capital believes humans are variations of all three.
Hribal focuses on animals caged in zoos, aquatic parks, circuses, breeding farms and research facilities, calling many animals by their human-given names. He tells the stories of elephants, gorillas, orcas, orangutans, chimpanzees, polar bears, tigers, sea lions and dolphins who have attacked their ‘trainers’ or keepers, or even strangers who have harassed them. The animals do not normally attack randomly – they actually seek out those who have harmed them. The dirty secret is that zoos, circuses and aquatic parks almost never admit what has really happened – everything is an ‘accident’ or just ‘acting up’ – when the real cause is confinement, control and its consequences. Hribal also details innumerable escape attempts by animals. Even though they know the sometimes deadly consequences of escape, they do it anyway, preferring that to continuing caged labor. The orangutans are so intelligent that they pick locks, observe when electricity is accidentally shut off on fences, and have even ‘shorted out’ an electric fence to escape.
One of Hribal’s continuing points is that not only are these animals caged, but they are also working animals who earn thousands or millions of dollars for their owners, in exchange for a pittance of fish or straw. And, like humans, the animals are nearly always overworked – sometimes to sickness and sometimes to death. Remember "Clyde," the famous orangutan from Eastwood's film "Every Which Way But Loose?" Clyde was beaten to death by his trainers for stealing a doughnut after the film was over.
Hribal starts out detailing the story of “Jumbo” the most famous elephant of all time, who became upset with his vicious English trainers and was killed by a train while escaping. Until it was outlawed in the U.S, circus and zoo animals were regularly hung, shot innumerable times, decapitated and executed in various manners for the crime of escape or retribution. And then there is “Shamu” – Seaworld’s longest living orca, if you believe the 50-something orca’s all named “Shamu” are the same whale. The many Shamus and his fellow aquatic animals have made millions of dollars for Seaworld as the flagship act. Caged animals only live half as long as those in the wild, but “Shamu” lives forever – or at least as long as the Seaworld Corporation. Many times the mother animals have to be killed in order for the ‘babies’ – of elephants or sea lions let’s say – to be taken away. These institutions were and still are directly responsible for decimating wild populations in their pursuit of the next performer.
Recently, a small zoo owner in Zanesville, Ohio let his animals go, and they were gunned down by the local police. The owner shot himself right after letting them out, perhaps in a fit of guilt. After you have read this book, I think you will refuse to attend circuses, zoos, aquariums or support most research on animals. Protecting animals is part of the same worldview as protecting the majority of humans. To paraphrase Marx, you can judge a society by how it treats the most vulnerable – in this case, the most vulnerable are animals.
Postscript: Jeffery St. Clair wrote the introduction to this book. St. Clair gets a dig in against Castro, who enjoys the zoo in Havana. Then in a somewhat odd attack on Marx, he accuses Marx of calling his enemies ‘baboons’ – and then details all the horrible things that capitalists have done to baboons – as if Marx did them! Even for an anarchist, that is a stretch. In addition, I could find no reference to Marx calling anyone a ‘baboon.’
For a defense of Marx on the question of animals, see, “Marx, Myths and Legends – by Lawrence Wilde” on the net, quoted here*. Of course, John Bellamy Foster also defends Marx on issues of the environment and nature against erroneous liberal and anarchist attacks.
Wilde: “A clarion call for the liberation of animals is cited approvingly by Marx in On the Jewish Question (Marx, 1975: 172). The words themselves belong to Thomas Münzer, the leader of the German Peasants’ Revolt in the early sixteenth century. What attracted Marx was Münzer’s view that under the dominion of private property and money, nature is treated in such a contemptuous way that it is debased. Münzer had concluded:
‘...all creatures have been turned into property, the fishes in the water, the birds in the air, the plants on the earth; the creatures, too, must become free.’ “*
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, November 18, 2011