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Monday, May 17, 2010

Shade’s Children and the Subversion of Domination

I don’t know if Garth Nix is a vegan. I don’t know if he intended Shade’s Children to have subversive threads throughout the story. But still, while reading Shade’s Children one can feel the parallel between the Overlords’ domination of humans and humans’ domination of animals in real life. The Overlords use humans in exactly the same ways humans use animals and even go so far as to refer to humans using the word ‘animals’. Their justification of human use is pretty much the justification the average human gives for enslaving animals; animals are stupider than us, they are meant for our use, it’s just the way things are supposed to be. This is what if a calf could speak, ze would ask humans, and this is probably what humans would answer:

“Why do you kill us? Why do you… do any of it?”
“That’s what you’re there for. It’s the way things are meant to be. You animals really are so stupid.”

The above question is asked by Ninde to an Overlord when she is being interrogated about her powers. The Overlords keep human children in ‘Dormitories,’ where all their mental and physical faculties are exercised to develop the utmost brain and muscle mass, after puberty girls are taken away for breeding, and when any child reaches the age of fourteen ze is taken to the ‘Meat Factory’ where hir brain and muscles are harvested to generate ‘Creatures’ that are basically soldiers who do the Overlords’ bidding. Any children that manage to escape are hunted down and taken to the Meat Factory. Shade leads a secret resistance group made of escaped children and works to overthrow the Overlords. The dread human children feel while trying to survive in an Overlord-dominated world, the anguish of your life being completely dominated and controlled by somebody else, living at the whim and mercy of sadists, the knowledge of death being a certainty of your near future, having no family, being treated as resources are all analogous to our domestication of animals. And no, it’s not just dying that is cruel; Nix makes it clear that when the four children (Ella, Drum, Ninde, Gold-Eye) might have a chance to live but as slaves to the Overlords for their Change Talents, it would be just as bad as going to the Meat Factory. Through putting humans in the position humans have kept nonhumans in for thousands of years, a world has been created in which the injustice of treating sentient beings as means to ends can be seen so clearly that I wonder how anyone can not see the horrors involving our own daily life.

Having said that, at the risk of contradicting myself, I think one other interpretation that can be made of Shade’s Children is that the narrative could imply that domination matters only when it’s being done to humans. The world is so terrible because everything is not hunky-dory for humans; we are supposed to feel sad and sympathise with the children because they are humans; the same thing that is done daily in real life does not matter because it is done to nonhumans. How could *gasp!* the sceptre of power have been snatched from us mighty humans?! Humans are *gasp!* being equated with animals! The world must be put to rights at once!

Whichever way you interpret it, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to see the world from the point of view of the dominated species for a change.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Radical Feminism and Liberal Feminism Vs. Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

I saw an old post at Official Shrub.com by Lake Desire, who compares animal rights and animal welfare with radical feminism and liberal feminism:
I want to clarify the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare is what most of you (and me) are in favor of: humane treatment of animals. Animal rights advocates entire liberation from human use. We both don’t want animals to suffer unnecessarily, but we don’t agree on what’s necessary.

I compare animal welfare and animal rights to liberal feminism and radical feminism. Animal welfare and liberal feminism both work for change within the system, while animal rights and radical feminism want a revolution that will dismantle oppressive hierarchies. (Ecofeminism joins the two and recognizes the ways in which animal and human dominion are interconnected.) I prefer to focus on our common goals rather than our differences. Fighting amongst ourselves takes time away from changing the world.
Apart from the fact that I think animal welfare can’t reduce any ‘suffering’ and think all animal use by humans is ‘unnecessary’, I also feel that comparing the two pairs (animal rights and animal welfare with radical feminism and liberal feminism) is like comparing apples and oranges.

Radical feminism is about abolishing patriarchal institutions such as the military, courts, the parliament, marriage etc.
Liberal feminism is about regulating and making these institutions egalitarian.
Both these theories have the main goal of making men and women equal in every way and can work simultaneously.

Animal rights are about abolishing animal use.
Animal welfare is about regulating animal use.
Their main goals are not the same: Animal welfare takes a utilitarian view of animals and just wants to make animals suffer less while being used. It ultimately places human interests above animal interests. It aims at reducing only that suffering that can be comfortably reduced and still allow animals to be used. Once the line of questioning use itself draws near, it doesn’t matter how much animals suffer because it would interfere with allowing the use. Unlike animal rights, it does not question the use itself.

The approaches these four theories would take in a given situation:

Animal welfare vs. animal rights: Let’s take the example of a physically abused woman:
Animal welfare: Don’t beat her twenty times, if you must, then do it ten times.
Animal rights: Don’t beat her at all.

Liberal feminism vs. radical feminism: Again taking the example of a physically abused woman:
Liberal feminism: We must regulate the institution of marriage and close the loopholes that let her be beaten.
Radical feminism: We must abolish the institution of marriage that gives the abuser the power to beat the victim.

Animal welfare sounds ridiculous while liberal feminism sounds plausible. Clearly these two are not comparable. This is because marriage can be made egalitarian through regulation. The woman can have control over her body and make her own choices and decisions but that is impossible in the case of nonhuman animals living with and being used by humans. The animals’ ‘owners’ have complete dominance over them, can do whatever they like with them and this can only be stopped if humans stop ‘owning’ animals, stop keeping animals in their homes, stop domestication and let the wildlife be. In my opinion, blending the approach of radical and liberal feminism will be the ideal solution (making marriage safe for people who still want to marry, while removing the social conditioning that makes marriage the default) while Peta has amply demonstrated that blending animal rights and welfare will make no sense and effect still less change.