21 July 2016

Aymeric Caron: Antispéciste : Réconcilier l'humain, l'animal, la nature (2016)

Until last year Aymeric Caron used to be a notable personality on Laurent Rouquier's Saturday evening TV programme On n'est pas couché (more familiarly known as ONPC), and I vividly remember watching a YouTube clip in which the singer Maxime Le Forestier asked Caron (although I forget the exact reason), in a surprised voice, if he didn't like chickens. Caron replied that he did, and then fiercely added: 'Vivants !' I was aware that Aymeric Caron didn't eat meat, although this brief TV exchange was my only knowledge of the extent of his respect for animals. This almost 500-page defence of Caron's beliefs is not just further proof of his respect, but evidence of very deep-rooted concern for non-human beings. I've been a vegetarian (but not vegan) for all of my adult life, am revolted just by the smell of dead animals being cooked, hate being around meat, walk swiftly past butchers' windows, and yet Caron makes me feel really guilty for not going the whole way, for drinking milk and eating cheese, which is after all a part of the process of exploiting animals.

Only towards the nineteenth century was the exploitation of black slaves officially banned in the Southern US states, and today it looks exactly as it was: barbaric, although the legacy of this barbarism will still take time to fully work its way into American society. Women may in theory now have equal pay, but how long will it take for them to be really recognised as the equals of men? And how long will it take for homosexuals to be fully accepted as having the same rights as heteros? More relevant to this book, when will the first labels appear on meat packages, showing animals when they first began the rearing process, coupled with labels of how they looked after being butchered, before being dressed up to appear in supermarkets? Most importantly of all, how long before, as Morrissey sang, will it be officially recognised that 'Meat is Murder'?

Aymeric Caron takes us through it all: the battery farms where hens are de-beaked without anaesthetic to prevent themselves from pecking each other to death out of boredom; the images from L214 of duckings being crushed to death; the animals being tortured in abattoirs and subjected to other illegal treatments, and on and on. There's even a lengthy description of a TV programme saying how well animals are treated, given names like pet cats and dogs, yet in the end there is no death shown, nothing to suggest the fate of sentient creatures who must surely experience a very similar feeling of pain as those pets, or of course humans. Why? No human animal has to eat meat, and there is every evidence not only that we thrive on not eating it but that it is actually good for us.

Caron's highly readable book doesn't just criticize the lies and cruelty of the meat profession but goes way beyond envisioning animals in a Disneyfied way and presents 'antispeciesism' as a new way of life. When he says 'Antispécisme est un nouvel humanisme' he isn't just playing on  L'Existentialsme est un humanisme (lit. 'Existentialism Is a Humanism')  – Sartre's publication of his famous speech created as a more accessible version of L'Être et le néant – but laying the foundations for a new kind of thinking, beyond the less extreme but nevertheless ground-breaking work of the Australian animal rights champion Peter Singer.

The author mentions and clearly respects the work of several anarchists such as Tolstoy, Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus and is obviously sympathetic towards Henry David Thoreau, claims that anti-speciesism is a new approach to Marxism, and that a new form of civil disobedience (as opposed to refusing to pay taxes), such as boycott, is needed. In fact, what is necessary is a more profound kind of ecology à la Arne Næss.

This is not a doctoral thesis, and much of the emotion would be lost if it were, although I'd have all the same appreciated an index, all the exclamation marks towards the end made me feel weary, and in spite of the internet age we live in was the (only one, admittedly) smiley really necessary? Far too many minor criticisms from me here: this is a book not only to change minds, but to change the world: now, what are we gonna do to destroy runaway capitalism/neo-liberalism, apart from by individually respecting animals by not eating them?

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