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Reading Growl

May 31st, 2014 No comments
A box of Growls on the dining room table.

A box of Growls on the dining room table.

I’m reading Growl for the first time as a book. I’ve read it before umpteen times in various incarnations as a manuscript, a work in progress (or not in progress, as the case invariably was). But now that it’s published, holding the finished book in my hands, turning the pages, reading along the lines, well, it’s all a bit strange. It was also strange to see a box of Growls waiting to be opened sitting on the dining room table. All that effort, I thought, grief, anguish, hard work, frustration, self-doubt, self-pity, anxiety…..sitting there in a box.

Of course, it’s all that and much more.

It’s a finished, printed book with my name as the author on the cover. Holding it in my hands for the first time, flipping through the pages, well, it didn’t seem real. ‘Aren’t you excited?’ I was asked repeatedly in the last weeks knowing that this moment was imminent. ‘No,’ I said. And, indeed, I wasn’t. It was anticlimactic. It was surreal. It wasn’t a moment I savoured. There wasn’t any celebration.

It didn’t help that my partner, Gary, was struggling with a horrid cold after returning from two weeks in the U.S. It didn’t help that I also felt I was coming down with the same bug. As it turns out, I was but not as badly. It didn’t help that what has taken to write, produce, and publish Growl has been years, if not decades of work. And now it seems that the book I held was no longer my own. It had a life of its own.

People, I realised, are going to make what they will out of it. And I, the author, will be judged accordingly. Rightly. Or wrongly. For there are things said in Growl which won’t make some people happy. In fact, it’s going to make them angry and, in some cases, further right me off as a sell-out. Others won’t like what I write about their animal rights work. Most likely, there isn’t anything I could say or do that would keep them happy anyway. So, I’ve prepared myself with saying,

You don’t have to like Growl. No one, least of all me, is forcing you or anyone else to agree with me.

At the Bristol VegFest last weekend, one man posed a question after my Growl-themed presentation, well, he made a statement to the effect that people are all shits and we’re all doomed. Tempted as I was to agree with him, I soft peddled it a bit by saying that I understood how he felt and mumbled something about that that way of thinking wasn’t going to get us anywhere. But what I really wanted to say was, ‘Why the fuck did you bother coming to the VegFest if that’s how you felt? Next question, please!’

It’s not going to bother me if people disagree with what I have to say. In fact, I feel even more emboldened to speak the truth as I see it. But if there are truly reasonable opportunities for respectful, rational, and reasonable debate, well, I welcome them.

Meanwhile, as I continue to read Growl–the book, it strangely feels that I’m following the thoughts of someone else but who is a lot like me. Yes, of course, I wrote it, and many people influenced and helped me along the way. I had the great fortune to work with finest of editors, Martin Rowe, who challenged me to do better. But I recall what I’ve heard authors said. Once it’s published, a book has a life of its own.

Have a good trip, Growl. It’s been (mostly) nice knowing you. Now, it’s time for me to take my next voyage of discovery–except that Growl is demanding its promotion and marketing.

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Art and the Making of Animal Rights

May 18th, 2014 No comments

 

The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights by Stephen F. Eisenman

The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights by Stephen F. Eisenman

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, and author of The Cry of Nature — Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion; 2013). This is a fascinating read, which, I believe, deserves the attention of advocates and scholars alike who care deeply about animals, and why I wanted to interview him. 

1. What inspired you to write The Cry of Nature – Art and the Making of Animal Rights?

I have been a vegetarian for 25 years and a vegan for about five. In addition, about ten years ago, I started to become engaged in the relatively new research field of Animal Studies.

But the real impetus for The Cry of Nature came in 2008. After publishing a short book about the photographs made at Abu Ghraib prison, (The Abu Ghraib Effect, 2007) I realized that the issue of human rights and animal rights are essentially the same! Animals like humans are sensitive and empathetic. Both require love, freedom and companionship to thrive. Yet both have been systematically denied these things by kings, tyrants, presidents and regular people willing to look the other way. In addition, the great artworks we see in museums generally show dead animals or slabs of meat as both natural and beautiful! I wanted to write a book that would make that violence strange again. I also wanted to highlight the work of artists who rejected violence, anthropocentrism and the turning of sentient beings into mere commodities.

2. The book’s subtitle is ‘Art and the Making of Animal Rights.’ How did artists help inaugurate the animal rights movement?

In the 17th C, the painter Rembrandt rejected the Cartesian distinction between body and soul, and between human and animal. He showed the latter – even in death – as possessing of a soul. So did William Hogarth and George Stubbs in the 18th century, and the French Romantic, Theodore Gericault in the 19th. Hogarth in particular was cited by the philosophers of the late 18th Century who started the modern animal rights movement. Without Hogarth, John Oswald and Joseph Ritson – both pioneers of animal rights – would never have written their books. By the way, the title of my book derives from Oswald’s amazing, radical, but little-read 1791 manifesto, The Cry of Nature – or An Appeal to Mercy and to Justice on Behalf of the Persecuted Animals.

3. Which works by Hogarth do you mean?

William Hogarth, The First Stage of Cruelty, 1751

William Hogarth, The First Stage of Cruelty, 1751

There is of course, his great portrait of his pug dog, Trump! But more important are the great engravings called The Four Stages of Cruelty. The first two prints are a veritable encyclopedia of animal cruelty and were intended to shock the conscience of viewers. And they did! Of all the works he made, Hogarth was the most proud of these.

4. What is your view of 20th and 21st century artists like Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, and Sue Coe? How did they depict animals?

Kim, that’s a big question, and readers will have to look at my book for an answer. But I will say that excepting Hirst, they all rejected in one way or another the cruel clichés of speciesism. Coe of course is the greatest moralist-artist active today. She proves that you can be both brilliant at your craft (drawing, painting, printmaking) and a powerful force for social change. She has single-handedly made more vegans than all the animal welfare groups put together!

5. Is the focus of your current research animal rights? If so, what can you say us about it?

Yes, I can’t leave it behind. I am writing about animal agency in the late 18th Century and after. In all previous emancipation struggles, the oppressed group has fought for its own freedom. I have discovered that animals – for example the ones brought to Smithfield Market in London — did that too, and that their oppressors recognized it. I know this sounds a bit crazy, but I am a careful scholar and I have the evidence! Rampant bulls at Smithfield killed in order to obtain their freedom. Sheep cried out in such a plaintive way that they attracted human supporters. I am giving illustrated lectures about these subjects at conferences this year in England and the US, so please come and hear for yourself.

But Kim, as you know so well, scholarship is not enough. I am becoming more and more engaged with activism. For me, the one supports the other, and I am trying to teach my students at Northwestern the same lesson. The best scholar is the engaged scholar.

 

PS Here’s a video of Stephen giving a talk to the Chicago Humanities Festival which outlines what he explores more fully in  his book. I find it to be important and fascinating research and analysis that’s relevant to understanding our complex relationship with other animals.

 

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Growl’s Foreword by Brian May

May 11th, 2014 3 comments
Brian May

Brian May

It’s my great honour that Brian May has very kindly written the Foreword to Growl. In the last few years, Brian has spoken out against the present UK government’s threat to repeal the Hunting Act and bring back fox, stag, and deer hunting as well as the government’s policy to kill badgers allegedly to halt the spread of TB among cows raised for their milk. He established the Save Me campaign, named after his song, to champion all, but predominantly British, wildlife.

Around the world he is, of course, known and beloved as a founding member of Queen and a world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, producer, and performer. He’s also a Doctor of Astrophysics and an authority in 3D stereoscopic photography. Officially, he is known as Dr Brian May, CBE, PhD FRAS; but to Britain’s wildlife, he’s known as our friend Brian.

Growl‘s Foreword by Brian May

I was honoured to be asked to write a foreword for Kim Stallwood’s definitive book about the journey of men and women towards decency. Did I say ‘definitive’? Yes, I believe this book is important enough to be essential reading for anyone who has begun to listen to what their conscience says, as regards how we, as humans, behave towards the other beings on Earth, whether human or nonhuman.

There is, in human evolution, a time for ideas to germinate and become powerful social movements for change. It is highly significant that Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, in a foreword he wrote for The Global Guide to Animal Protection,

I have seen first-hand how injustice gets overlooked when the victims are powerless or vulnerable, when they have no one to speak up for them and no means of representing themselves to a higher authority. Animals are in precisely that position. Unless we are mindful of their interests and speak out loudly on their behalf, abuse and cruelty go unchallenged.

This, from Tutu, a man who spent most of his life fighting against injustice to blacks, women, and gays, is a signal that our sensibilities are growing up. It is a call to us all to stand up for what most of us believe is right, on a larger stage than ever before.

The fact that you are reading this foreword is probably an indication that you are already in that group of humans who feel profoundly uncomfortable with vast areas of our everyday treatment of animals, and would like to make a change. I count myself in that group. Yet, for most of our lives, busy and ambitious as we are, and concerned with providing for a growing family, we turn a blind eye to that inner dissatisfaction. How can we turn ourselves into an instrument for change towards decency in human behaviour?

Kim Stallwood’s fascinating account of his ongoing journey towards this goal is the best answer to this question I have ever seen. Although Kim is modest and self-critical, his life has already inspired many of us in our quest to give animals a voice. In this book, he chronicles his own passion as he makes a journey that is both real and symbolic, towards true decency. The only good parallel I can think of for his often painful honesty and sharp perception is John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. This book explodes many myths and bubbles; it levels all the high ground that many have believed they stood on, and plainly beckons us in humility and simplicity to a better way of thinking, in which we cause no unnecessary pain to any creature. Better than this, it opens the door to a world based on compassion, our greatest hope for us and our children, and our children’s children.

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World Day for Laboratory Animals 1984

April 23rd, 2014 No comments
In London's Trafalgar Square on World Day for Laboratory Animals in 1984.

In London’s Trafalgar Square on World Day for Laboratory Animals in 1984.

Thirty years ago in London’s Trafalgar Square, I was the lead organiser of a national demonstration to recognise World Day for Laboratory Animals, when I was Campaigns Officer at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

The protest was at that point in time the world’s largest animal rights demonstration with nine thousand people, with the greatest number ever involved–six hundred–in street theatre.

Under BUAV’s hallmark slogan of ‘Every Six Seconds an Animal Dies in a British Laboratory’, we constructed a large doorway, which was painted to represent an entrance to a vivisection laboratory. We dressed a couple of people as vivisectors, with bloodstained white coats, and stationed them by the doorway. From the plinth at the Square, we announced that for the ninety minutes of speeches and music a tape loop would play the sound of a bell chiming every six seconds. Each time the bell rang, large numbers were turned on the stage to count to six hundred while one of the vivisectors took a protester through the door, ‘killed’ them in front of the plinth, and laid them on the ground as dead animals. Eventually, the area was filled with 600 ‘dead animals’.

At the 1984 World Day for Laboratory Animals demonstration in London's Trafalgar Square, I help Sue Croshaw speak out as a disabled person against animal experimentation by holding the microphone stand.

At the 1984 World Day for Laboratory Animals demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square, I help Sue Croshaw speak out as a disabled person against animal experimentation by holding the microphone stand.

This protest was part of a coalition, the Mobilisation of Animals, which opposed the government’s proposed legislation to replace the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. The coalition consisted of Animal Aid, Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, National Anti-Vivisection Society, and BUAV. We opposed the proposed law because it wouldn’t even ban particularly egregious examples of animal experimentation—such as using animals for testing the negative effects of tobacco and alcohol, and the toxicity of cosmetics, as well as employing animals in research for military and psychological purposes. These experiments had been the focus of the 1979 and 1983 General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection campaigns I helped to lead. We organised a lobby of Parliament, which was attended by seven hundred people, and a rally, emceed by myself, with sympathetic Members of Parliament of all political parties, and others.

Although the government ignored our demands on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, I believe BUAV and its companion organisations succeeded in highlighting what needed to be done when the new legislation was enforced. For example, the U.K. government subsequently banned the testing of cosmetics on animals in 1997 and the LD50 oral toxicity test in 2001. In 2003, the European Union agreed to a membership-wide ban on cosmetics animal testing by 2013.

The Talon Conspiracy, an online archive preserving the history of protest movements for animal rights and environmentalism, offers an opportunity to read back copies of BUAV’s ‘campaigning newspaper,’ The Liberator, which I co-edited. Here’s the link to the issue which included a report on the Trafalgar Square demonstration.

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Henry Salt Died April 19, 1939

April 22nd, 2014 No comments
Henry Salt 1851-1939

Henry Salt 1851-1939

It’s important to remember the passing of Henry Salt in Brighton, England on April 19, 1939. He lived an extraordinary life championing social justice that had at its heart animal rights. He wrote his own eulogy, which was read out at his funeral,

When I say I shall die, as I have lived, rationalist, socialist, pacifist, and humanitarian, I must make my meaning clear. I wholly disbelieve in the present established religion; but I have a very firm religious faith of my own—a Creed of Kinship I call it—a belief that in years yet to come there will be a recognition of brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and subhuman, which will transform a state of semi-savagery, as we have it, into one of civilisation, when there will be no such barbarity of warfare, or the robbery of the poor by the rich, or the ill-usage of the lower animals by mankind.

I’ve written here about Salt on previous occasions (here and here and here) but a wonderful resource about Salt and all things related is here.

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Radio Interview with Caryn Hartglass

April 14th, 2014 No comments

REALPlease listen to my radio interview with Caryn Hartglass of the NYC-based Responsible Eating and Living.

We discussed many issues, including being vegan and my forthcoming book, Growl, as well as reminiscing about an infamous protest at an animal rights conference some years ago!

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Bleating Hearts by Mark Hawthorne

March 20th, 2014 No comments
Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering by Mark Hawthorne

Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering by Mark Hawthorne

Mark Hawthorne wrote Bleating Hearts because he wanted to ‘examine animal exploitation that does not get enough (or any) attention.’ (4) As you might expect, this is a book that is a catalog of our inhumanity to animals. It’s not an easy read but each chapter concludes with a ‘What You Can Do’ section. The best way to read it is to take chapters in turn depending upon your interest or need to know. Hawthorne is a writer of integrity. If he says it, you can trust it. I recognised Bleating Hearts as one of my Best Animal Rights Books in 2013. Indeed, Bleating Hearts is so important that not only does it deserve a place on everyone’s bookshelf but also it warrants further examination here.

Take, for example, Chapter 6 ‘The Age of Aquariums: Animals in Entertainment.’ Sixty pages devoted to indefensible activities such as imprisoning dolphins, orcas, and killer whales and conditioning them to perform silly tricks to entertain people. As with other marine mammal displays, roadside attractions, and zoos, there’s no real educational benefit. Studies show that visitors don’t necessarily learn anything about the trapped animals other than perhaps recalling the thrill of being splashed with water. Wild animals are no less wild just because they’re wild-caught or bred (in-bred more like). Most likely from boredom, frustration, and anger, they attack and kill people when they’re provoked or have the opportunity to do so. Hawthorne explains how parks get their orcas.

The orca slave trade took off in 1965 when Ted Griffin, then owner of the Seattle Public Aquarium, captured a young whale, harpooning and killing her mother in the process. The calf, the first in a long line of orcas to be given the name Shamu, was sold to San Diego’s newly built Sea World for what would be half a million US dollars today. Suddenly, marine parks everywhere were eager to shell out big money for these animals, and there were people willing to do anything for a piece of it. (305-6)

Then, there’s artificial insemination. Hawthorne describes how male orcas are taught to allow trainers to masturbate them and collect their semen. Female orcas are also trained to accept trainers insert an endoscope into their uterus to deliver the sperm. Next up are dolphins, who are caught, trained, and conditioned to swim with people for profit and supposedly for therapy assistance.

The rest of the chapter describes the injustices inflicted upon animals in circuses, zoos, in film and on TV, fighting (dogs, horses, bears), kickboxing (orangutans), wrestling (camels, alligators, crocodiles, pigs), and, perhaps the most ‘celebrated’ of all animals in entertainment, bullfighting.

But there’s much that can be done by everyone to dump so-called ‘animal entertainments’ into the trashcan of history.

The first and most important step you can take to help animals exploited for entertainment is not to support the enterprises and institutions that profit from animal abuse. (355)

Bleating Hearts is among the most important books anyone who cares deeply about animals would want to have on their bookshelf. The hidden world of animal suffering is that much more known thanks to Mark Hawthorne, whose writing is clear and compelling, and research impeccable and trustworthy. If ever there is a must-have book that’s well-read, this is it.

Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering by Mark Hawthorne (2013: Changemakers Books)

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Announcing Growl

March 14th, 2014 No comments

GROWL with Brian MayLantern Books will publish Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate in September.

Part memoir and part manifesto, I’ve written the book I wish I could’ve read when I went vegan and became involved with animal rights in the 1970s. 

I explore four key values in animal rights: compassion, truth, nonviolence, and justice.

Growl‘s fabulous cover is designed by Lawrence & Beavan.

Not all souls sing; some growl—for justice, for truth, for nonviolence. In this compelling book, Kim Stallwood offers frontline reflections with feet-on-the-ground theory, centered in compassion.

Carol J. Adams, author, The Sexual Politics of Meat

An erudite, engaging, and at times hilarious autobiography from one of the wisest voices of the animal rights movement.

Jonathan Balcombe, biologist and author, Pleasurable Kingdom

 

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Badgers, Politics, and Hastings

March 12th, 2014 No comments

Tomorrow’s (March 13, 2014) Backbench Business Committee debate in the House of Commons in support of a motion relating to the badger cull states that this:

House believes that the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have decisively failed against the criteria set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in guidance to Natural England for licensing of the culls[.]

The motion is brought by Mrs Anne Main, Conservative MP for St Albans, who states on her website that:

I have a great sympathy for farmers on this difficult issue and believe something has to be done to tackle Bovine TB. However this needs to be an effective policy and the pilot culls have failed on all of the Government’s own criteria, including humaneness. I cannot support an ineffective policy that condones the inhumane killing of a protected species and does not deliver on an effective way of tackling Bovine TB.

The UK’s government’s policy to kill badgers to stop the spread of TB in dairy cattle in England was criticised by its own Independent Expert Panel into pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Details from the IEP report were leaked recently. According to The Daily Telegraph, the IEP concluded that the culls ‘were ineffective and too many animals suffered needlessly.’

Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd, has supported the cull when it has been voted upon in the House of Commons. I emailed her on March 6 asking for her support by voting in favour of a motion being debated in the House of Commons tomorrow. Ms Rudd replied on March 11 saying in part that

I assure you that I am listening carefully to the different views that are being expressed by Constituents of Hastings and Rye. I know that you have strong views on this and I am always grateful to get you expert opinion on these matters.

The lives of badgers lay in the hands of Amber Rudd MP

The lives of badgers lay in the hands of Amber Rudd MP

Whereas parts of the Hastings and Rye constituency are rural which may include some dairy farms, most of her constituents live in the urban area of Hastings. The electorate in the constituency is 76,422 but the population of Hastings is about 86,900. Further, the constituency is home to many badgers and their setts. Many constituents appreciate living alongside badgers. Even if they don’t because they dig up their lawns or trample their allotments, they are generally not supportive of killing badgers. One national YouGov poll stated ‘opponents outnumber supporters of the cull by 42%-35%.’

Of particular note is that Hastings and Rye is a marginal constituency. In the last general election Amber Rudd won 41.1% (20,468) of the vote but her Labour opponent, Michael Foster, came a close second with 37.1% (18,475).

It is my sincere hope that Ms Rudd will change her position from supporting the badger cull to voting against it in tomorrow’s debate. Friends of badgers such as myself will be watching closely. The badger cull may well be the decisive issue that determines whether Ms Rudd is reelected at the next general election.

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Badger Cull & Amber Rudd MP

March 6th, 2014 No comments

My MP is Amber Rudd, Conservative, who represents Hastings and Rye. The following is an email I sent today to Ms Rudd asking her to vote in favour of a motion brought by Conservative MP Anne Main to end the badger cull.

I write to ask for your support by voting in favour of a motion to be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday 13th March. The motion calls for an end to the badger cull and is proposed by Conservative MP Anne Main. The Independent Expert Panel report into the pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire concluded that they were ‘ineffective and failed the humane test’. The conservative think tank, the Bow Group, has also subsequently come out as saying that culling badgers is ineffective, costly and unscientific and recommends vaccination as the only current option. The alternative to killing badgers is to vaccinate them. Several trials are now underway. Please advise me as soon as possible on your commitment to vote in favour of the motion to end the badger cull. Thank you.

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