FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Animalists Should Focus on Commonalities, Not Differences

There’s a great joke, of which there seem to be many variations, about the ludicrousness of a certain kind of sectarianism, that animalists could learn from. There appear to be many variations of the gag. In a 2005 article for the Guardian, comedian Emo Phillips, claimed to have come up with the it, originally using the context of Christian denominations. But I originally heard the joke in the context of socialism, and it was very similar, if not identical, to the version reposted to Louis Proyect’s blog, ‘The Unrepentant Marxist,’ which goes like this.

An elderly fellow named Sam was walking along the Brooklyn Bridge one day when he saw a man of similar age, standing on a ledge, about to jump. Sam ran toward the other man, shouting not to kill himself. The other guy, who we’ll call Joe, asked why not? He’d been a socialist all of his life and the possibility of working-class revolution seemed as hopeless as ever. Surprised, Sam said he was a socialist as well, before asking Joe if he had been in Communist Party USA. Joe said he had. Sam said he had too, before continuing, “Did you join the pro-Trotsky Communist League of America in 1928, which later merged with the American Workers Party to form the Workers Party of America in 1934?” Joe answered in the affirmative.

Sam exclaimed, “Spooky, me too! After the WPA was expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1936 did you go on to join the Socialist Workers Party USA and the Fourth International?” Joe said he did. It went on like this, question after question revealing their common trajectory in the history of leftist sectarianism. Sam asked, “In the 1940 dispute did you side with Cannon or Shachtman?” He finds that they both sided with James P. Cannon. Sam continued, “In 1962 did you join Robertson’s opposition caucus, the Revolutionary Tendency?” And the man on the ledge did, just like Sam.

Sam said, “And I bet that like me you were expelled and went on to join the International Communist League?” Joe said that went without saying. Sam plowed further, “In 1985 did you join the International Bolshevik Tendency who claimed that the Sparts had degenerated into an ‘obedience cult?’” Joe said he hadn’t, which Sam hadn’t either. Finally, Sam asked, “In 1998 did you join the Internationalist Group after the Permanent Revolution Faction were expelled from the ICL?” Joe answered he had joined the Internationalist Group, and exhilarated by their shared history, began to reconsider suicide. But Sam pushed Joe off the bridge, shouting, “Die, counterrevolutionary scum!”

At the risk of ruining the joke, the humor here, of course, largely comes from how much Sam and Joe had in common in relation to an already microscopic political subset, but how ultimately none of that mattered. When Sam discovered they shared a tiny, irrelevant difference, he had to literally destroy Joe. Ironically, Sam opposed Joe with far more vehemence than he might someone whose politics were genuinely well to the right of his.

This dynamic should sound very similar to animalists, and one imagines the gag could be easily rewritten for our context. We all know the countless fault lines — whether one supports individual violence, whether one supports the large non-profits, whether one is a reformist, whether one is a tactical reformist. The different ideological litmus tests we have created, and I certainly include myself in this, are endless. And the great irony is that to those outside the incredibly marginalized anti-speciesist movement, none of these differences matter. To them, we are all those ‘animal-rights wackos,’ just like, to an uninvolved observer, Sam and Joe are both ‘socialist nut jobs.’

Our elevation of comparatively minor tactical or ideological differences between us is really an expression of the powerlessness of our movement. Consciously or not, when we do this, we are conceding that societal change on behalf of animals, however minor, is impossible. We retreat into a sectarian hovel, where we duke it out amongst ourselves, quixotically fighting those who deviate from the correct anti-speciesist line. This of course, doesn’t help animals. The only way to create real change for non-humans is to create a mass movement, which involves coalition building with those one might not entirely agree, including those whose species politics are reformist. We have to unite.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.

More articles by:

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail