Friday, May 10, 2013

The Politics of the Pasture

James McWilliams writes:

Green Mountain College, from the founding of Cerridwen Farm in 1997 to its decision to kill Bill and Lou in 2012, was seeking to do what it genuinely thought best to do: farm in a way that modeled an environmentally sound alternative to industrial agriculture. The school loved the idea. The students loved the idea. The media loved the idea. It was extremely popular in every progressive corner. Replacing industrial agriculture with sustainable agriculture has become one of the most inspiring goals of the twenty-first century. GMC, through 22 acres known as Cerridwen Farm, aimed to play a direct role in this emerging revolution. ...

When animal advocates seized upon a controversy — the decision to kill and eat Bill and Lou — to argue that GMC’s pursuit of “sustainable agriculture” obscured basic moral consideration for animals, an unusually high-profile debate unfolded. That debate explored something that has, for the most part, enjoyed a free pass through an otherwise bramble-ridden landscape of agrarian discourse: the intensifying role of animal exploitation in “sustainable agriculture.” This book has tried to sketch out and analyze the depth and breath of that debate. As I hope has been made clear, animal advocates have made a strong case for not raising animals to slaughter and eat. They have effectively highlighted the ethical problem of killing sentient beings for unnecessary purposes. Repeatedly, and with varying levels of respect, they have demanded, sometimes forthrightly, that this quandary be acknowledged and explained by the advocates of small-scale animal agriculture at GMC.

In response, GMC never provided a serious answer. Ever. They provided excuses, but never did they make a sufficient ethical case in favor of killing the animals they supposedly loved for food they merely wanted rather than needed. More often than not, their primary battle tactic was to hyperbolize a few incendiary comments made by a few hotheads in the animal rights movement and deem themselves the innocent and helpless victim of vicious intimidation. I don’t buy for a moment that anyone at GMC ever felt truly in danger, but, as we’ll see, they put on an Oscar-worthy performance promoting their own victimhood.

As an advocate for animal rights and social justice, I’ve come to believe something very strongly: when a group seeking to reform an oppressive institution (in this case industrial agriculture) does so by relying on the exploitation of other sentient beings (in this case, two oxen), that group will eventually assume the tactics of the oppressors. They will, in other words, take the low road to perdition despite their articulated intentions to elevate themselves in the name of a nobler mission. To put a finer point on it, when a group of agricultural reformers seeks to dismantle industrial agriculture and its state sponsorship while simultaneously encouraging the single most important habit required to sustain industrial agriculture — eating animals — that group will find itself aligned, in the end, with the oppression of industrial agriculture.

Well, we’re at the end. And, in ways that could not be more affirmative of my thesis had I scripted them, GMC, in the wake of Lou’s death and the resulting vituperation that followed, has explicitly and implicitly aligned itself with American agribusiness. Indeed, GMC and Big Beef hopped in bed, divided the world into those who did and did not eat animals, and proceeded to do what those who exploit animals for a living do so very well: they consolidated their power and exploited the weakest.


environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

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