Archive for March, 2012

Virginia Woolf–On this day

March 28th, 2012 2 comments

This bust of Virginia Woolf stands in the garden at Monk's House where her ashes were scattered.

On this day in 1941, Virginia Woolf took her life. She took a short walk from her home, Monk’s House at Rodmell in Sussex, to commit suicide.

She walked into the River Ouse, after filling her coat pockets with stones.

More than perhaps any other literary figure I can think of, Virginia Woolf has a profound effect on me. And it’s hard to say why exactly. Other than to say vaguely she is a writer who inspires.

Reading her novels, short stories, letters and diaries as well as her nonfiction, essays and articles, provide a constant source of inspiration, fascination and delight. Some of the biographies and literary criticism that I have read about her also offer similar experiences.

Beware, however, as her life has generated an industry of activity, some of which is quite middling in quality.

I do not profess to be an expert. And nor do I strive to be one. Nevertheless, Virginia’s writing, whatever form it takes, stands apart from almost all others. With one or two notable exceptions, this point is repeatedly made to me whenever I read anyone else other than her.

I read her mostly at night, particularly when I cannot sleep. Virginia has become my companion in the hours between — dare I say? — night and day. I pick at random one of her books off the shelf, lay on the sofa, open it up at any page and begin to read. I am never disappointed.

This is why it is important for me to remember her on this day.


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Animal Dharma Update

March 20th, 2012 No comments

After a two-day period of self-imposed isolation at home, an important landmark was reached on Saturday with respect to my first book, Animal Dharma.

Draft Two is finished!


Animal Dharma explores four key values in our relationship with animals, which are:

  • Compassion, our motivation to helping animals
  • Truth, our ethical relationship with animals
  • Nonviolence, our values in the relationship we have with animals
  • Interbeing (the interconnectedness of all), our commitment to social justice for animals

Animal Dharma is part memoir and personal self-reflection, as well as animal rights history and movement strategy. Animal Dharma is written with myself in mind. It is the book I wish I could have read when I was 19, when I became a vegetarian after working in a chicken slaughterhouse, and 21, when I became a vegan and campaigns organiser for Compassion In World Farming in 1976.

Of course, I could not write Animal Dharma without the experience I am fortunate to have had since then with the animal rights movement in the United Kingdom and United States. Nevertheless, writing a book is a long arduous process, consisting of a series of decisions, ranging from macro concepts, to where should that comma go in this sentence?

Draft Two consisted of completely rewriting the first. I am most fortunate in having a small group of readers who generously read the first draft, and some of the second, and shared their comments with me. I am in touch with them about the completed second draft, which I have also shared with another small group of readers. Of course, I have to wait for their feedback; however, my fingers are crossed that Draft Three will not be a major rewrite (like the second), but more along the lines of fiddling, adjusting and tackling anomalies and improving any confusing bits. The readers, who I will recognise in the book when it is published, have been marvellous. Indeed, there are many others whose thoughtfulness and kindness continue to help and inspire me along the way.

In fact, this project began in another form; but I suddenly realised one day that I was writing two books. I had to divide the manuscript in half and start again. The first became Animal Dharma, which I often refer to as Book One. Book Two, The Animal Rights Challenge, is already underway with writing and research. Hopefully, Book Two will be an easier project, having completed one, and its focus not being in the first person. To write about oneself well is more difficult than writing about others!

I can not say when Animal Dharma will be published; however, the completion of Draft Two makes that day not seem quite so far off after all.

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Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society Conference

March 12th, 2012 2 comments

Richard Ryder speaking at the Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society conference at Exeter University.

The Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society Conference took place on Saturday, March 10 at the University of Exeter. It was organised by a group of scholars based at various universities throughout Britain. About 150 students, teachers, animal advocates and authors were in attendance. Presentations included speakers not only based in the United Kingdom but also the European Union.

My presentation, ‘Animal Rights: Moral Crusade or Political Movement?‘, is available to read here.

Long-standing animal advocate and author, Richard D. Ryder, gave the keynote presentation. He focused on key issues to successful campaigns, drawing from examples of successful initiatives from his many decades of activities. Other presentations explored such issues as animal law, the badger ‘cull’, representation of animals in the Bible and Marxism and a social theory of animal liberation.

The organisers are to be congratulated on a very successful and informative conference.

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Invention of the Savage

March 4th, 2012 No comments

The Invention of the Savage Exhibition at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris.

Animal advocates know the spectacle of exhibiting animals in a zoo or in any other form of display is an affront to the animals’ welfare and their intrinsic value as individual sentient beings with moral and legal rights. Zoos, aquariums, roadside attractions, etc., are examples of institutionalised speciesism in which we (the human animal) exert power and control over all other species. Speciesism is often explained as being on a continuum of prejudice along with sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc.

The Invention of the Savage exhibit at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris demonstrates this continuum of prejudice and where it intersects on racial and colonial lines; however, it fails, notwithstanding much reference to the ‘other,’ to recognise the speciesist exploitation of animals alongside the various individuals and groups of people who were also put on display in one way or another.

This is a great shame because, otherwise, it is an incredibly powerful and moving exhibition which explains well how we construct racism and institutionalise in our culture. I reproduce here the museum’s brief description of the path taken by a visitor through the exhibit.

The first Act (‘Discovering the Other’) features the 15th and 18th Century arrival of exotic people in Europe, and their consideration as ‘strange foreigners’, categorized in four archetypes throughout the exhibition: the savage, the artist, the freak and the exotic ambassador.

The second act (‘Freaks & Exotics’) shows how early 19th Century brings the emergence of a new genre: ethnic shows. They first develop in theater cafés before spreading to larger and larger venues and being included in exhibitions and circuses. This process of staging the difference blurs the difference between the deformed and the foreign: physical, psychological and geographical abnormalities are first staged, and then become the focus of performances.

The third act (‘Spectacle of Difference’) reveals that between 1870 and World War Two, many venues start specializing in ethnic performance as the Crystal Palace, Barnum and Bailey in Madison Square, the Paris Folies Bergères or the famous Panoptikum in Berlin. It is the time of the professionalization of the activity, and exotic performance morphs into mass entertainment. Visitors are introduced to “actors of savageness” who become true genre professionals: Aboriginals, ‘lip-plate women’, Amazons, snake charmers, Japanese tightrope walkers or oriental belly dancers, but also the first black clown in France called “Chocolat” and drawn by Toulouse-Lautrec and legendary Buffalo Bill, whose show revolves on the native American Indian archetype, which forever brands the Far West imagery. Unbeknownst to them, audiences encounter made-up ‘savages’. Generally paid, the exhibited actively participate in building the imagery.

The fourth act (‘Staging’) shows how reconstructed ethnic villages, zoos, colonial and international fairs, science and spectacle merge in multiple places. Exotic peoples and physical strangeness are brought together on stage as if they both equally represented the realm of abnormality. Excess, grandeur and ephemeral reconstructions characterize this section of the exhibition with posters and painted dioramas, film ,screenings, photographs, automates and postcards. The practice starts in public gardens, following the one in Paris which, in 1877, is the first in Europe to exhibit tribes and groups. Such exhibitions lead to the invention of travelling Villages, like Carl Hagenbeck’s. Major tours start in 1874, and in 1878 until the 30s, international and colonial fairs include an exotic dimension to their programs.

In the Menagerie by Paul Friedrich Meyerheim (1894)

Reference to animals occur periodically throughout the exhibit but speciesism is not addressed as such nor is the ethical question raised about exhibiting animals. However, there are some powerful examples of animals alongside exhibited ‘savages’ where, for example, Africans were brought with elephants and displayed together in zoos.

It was exciting to see in the exhibit Paul Friedrich Meyerheim’s painting, ‘In the Menagerie,’ included as it demonstrates well how an animal keeper displays an African man carrying a crocodile on his shoulders with an elephant standing behind them.

The most important understanding I came away with from the ‘Invention of the Savage’ was how, in the course of a few hundred years, individual non-white people were considered at Royal Courts to be ‘pets’ and ‘novelty’ people. This led to groups, indeed families, of natives put on public display and white people paid an admission to see them at international exhibitions and in zoos. This transition from individuals to groups contributed toward embedding into Western culture an imperialist and white supremacist worldview. A socially constructed problem of the making during last few hundred years which we continue to struggle with today.

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ARZone Podcast with the Brit Pack

March 2nd, 2012 No comments

Further to my first Animal Rights Zone podcast interview, the good folks at ARZone invited me to be part of the first of a series of Brit Pack interviews.

This ARZone Special on the history and development of the Animal Advocacy Movement features Brendan McNally, Louise Wallis, Lynne Yates, Ronnie Lee, Roger Yates and yours truly. The host is ARZone founder, Carolyn Bailey.

Listen to the podcast here.

It was a great discussion with much in agreement but also some different takes on whether and what accomplishments have been made for animal rights and living as a vegan.

What do you think?


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No UK Govt Ban on Wild Animals in Circuses!

March 2nd, 2012 No comments

Various animal protection organisations and pro-animal bloggers throughout the world are proclaiming success in that the British government has banned wild animals in circuses. This is not true. Further, to repeat this claim is to give credit where none is due.

The commitment made is the intent to ban wild animals in circuses. Meanwhile, the government will set up a regulatory scheme to license wild animals in circuses.

People! Pay attention!

The BBC reports

In a written parliamentary statement, Lord Taylor said: “There is no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses. Wild animals deserve our respect. “We have said many times we wanted to ban this outdated practice, but before we could do that there were serious legal issues we had to consider. “We are developing proposals to introduce a bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. “In the meantime we are introducing a Circus Licensing Scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses.”

Regrettably, the last Labour government also failed to institute a ban when it could.

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