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CRT Professors Have Yet to Meet an Animal They Do Not Want to Harm
In prior articles, I argued that Critical Race Theory — and its offshoots, Critical Gender Theory, Critical Social Theory, and Critical Animal Studies — threatens animal protection. In books and journal articles, professors of race, gender, and sexuality have argued that:
Dogs who survive dog fighting should not be placed in caring, family homes because they are then “effectively segregated from Blackness”;
Shelters should kill animals or leave them on the streets instead of rescuing and placing them in family homes so as not to promote “settler-colonial and racist dynamics of land allocation”;
Backyard breeding should be encouraged to promote “queer affiliations”;
The police should be defunded, and convicted animal abusers released from incarceration, even in cases of torture and killing, to dismantle the “carceral” state; and,
People should be allowed to have “pansexual” relations with animals — the rape of dogs, horses, and others — in the name of “queering the human-animal bond.”
A summary of these books and articles is here.
Recently, I came across two additional published journal articles in this genre. The first, published a number of years ago, claims that animals who are hunted by indigenous people want to die and do not mind suffering when they do.
The second article, published this year, claims that rescuing and finding homes for disabled dogs stigmatizes disabled people by reinforcing “oppressive norms.”
The Gift of the Animal
In The Gift in the Animal, Indigenous Studies Professor Paul Nadasdy of Cornell, argues — without a hint of irony or sarcasm — that hunted animals are not victims of violence; they offer themselves up to be killed as a “gift” to the hunter, if the hunter is “indigenous.”
After embedding with the particular tribe he studies, Professor Nadasdy writes of catching an animal in a snare, finding the animal alive, trying to kill him with his bare hands, and doing a poor job so that it took a long time and the animal severely suffered. He claims to have felt “terrible” but was told by the tribal chief to put those feelings aside — the rabbit wanted to have his neck broken. As Professor Nadasdy explains, “it is disrespectful to think about an animal’s suffering when you kill it” because “To think about the animals’ suffering… is to find fault with the gift, to cast doubt on whether the animal should have given itself to you in the first place.”
Nadasdy says these animals literally want to be killed. Viewing the “gift” as a metaphor, as more traditional scholars of this particular tribe do, is Western elitism, ignores “indigenous knowledge,” and arrogantly denies that the relationship between hunted animal and the indigenous hunter is a sacred one — the animal’s “willing” sacrifice a sacred gift.
In addition to infantilizing these societies — assuming they are so simple that they are incapable of understanding how the world works — this view is narcissistic, anti-animal, and — forgive the vulgarity — idiotic. That is not ad hominem: the word’s very definition is “showing complete lack of thought or common sense.” And yet Nadasdy is not alone.
Harlan Weaver, a race and gender professor from Kansas State University, writes that “Indigenous people continue to be targeted through animals, with traditional whale- and seal-hunting practices vital to native lifeways and cosmologies under fire from organizations like Greenpeace.”
To Weaver, trying to stop the killing of whales or the clubbing to death of seals is not an act of compassion; it is an attempt to cause the “erasure of Indigenous cosmologies and ways of knowing across the globe.” No evidence is presented for this proposition, and none can be because there is no such thing as “Indigenous cosmologies.” Aside from being objectively wrong about the nature of reality, these ancient beliefs have always been an incoherent patchwork of regional and local mythologies that changed over time. (Weaver admits he has no evidence for his propositions but claims he does not need it because “objective evidence” is “racist.”)
Challenging and Reinforcing the Ability/Disability System through Advocacy for Disabled Dogs
Weaver also argues that promoting technology, like wheelchairs, to give mobility to disabled animals “erases” disabled people and does “violence to nonnormative bodies.” This view is echoed in a newly published article in Disability Studies Quarterly by Katja Guenther, a professor in the Department of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
I previously criticized Guenther’s book The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals for perpetuating prejudicial and unsubstantiated views about people of color and their inability to provide appropriate care to dogs. In the book, she argues that treating animals as family, showing them affection, and providing them medical care are white values; in contrast to treating animals “as resources, whether protective (as in guarding) or financial (as in breeding or possibly fighting)” which she inaccurately claims is inherent to black and Latino culture. She further argues that rescuers who want dogs adopted to “those who will treat their dog as a family member” and will “care for their dog at a high level for the duration of the dog’s life” are using dogs “as instruments for reproducing whiteness.”
In her latest article, Challenging and Reinforcing the Ability/Disability System through Advocacy for Disabled Dogs, Guenther accuses female rescuers of promoting “the maintenance of existing oppressive norms” because they both set themselves up as “saving” disabled animals and, in doing so, “stigmatize[ ] certain kinds of bodily variations.”
Like Weaver, Guenther claims that by highlighting the animal’s disability to raise donations for their care and get them adopted, a female rescuer:
Idealizes non-disability as more “desirable;”
Exerts “domination” and “control” over animals;
Feeds patriarchal attitudes about women’s nurturing;
Promotes capitalist exploitation by “commodifying” animals; and,
Insofar as they rescue animals from the street in impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods and place them in affluent suburban homes that can afford their extra care, promotes racism.
She also echoes her previous claim that people only rescue dogs because they suffer capitalist alienation and want to be seen as “saviors” and “heroes.” This is not just a very dim view of rescuers — at one point, she refers to their lifesaving efforts as a “freak show” — it is objectively wrong. (Conveniently, Guenther also “deliberately” rejects objective evidence.)
One can believe that it is better not to be paralyzed than to be paralyzed with all that paralysis entails (for both animals and people1) and still believe in and promote legal equality through a rights-based approach such as The Americans with Disabilities Act — or, in this case, the right of dogs to life, rescue, quality care, and a loving home.
One can also acknowledge that humans are the most resourceful species on the planet, with the ability to alter our environments well above the ability of dogs while simultaneously rejecting the notion that might makes right. What Guenther negatively characterizes as “domination” and “control” of dogs is a duty to assist and protect. Accepting her criticism means accepting not only as inevitable but as normatively preferable the suffering disabled dogs face, despite our capacity to mitigate it. There is no rationale for this view other than an attitude that considers the avoidable suffering of animals or diminished ability to pursue fulfillment as somehow less egregious than that of humans in comparable circumstances and an attitude that does not recognize our duty and responsibility to reduce life’s hardships for other Earthlings when it is within our power to do so.
One can acknowledge that animals should not be commodified while believing that regulated capitalism holds the best track record and most potential for raising people out of poverty and animals out of harm’s way.
Finally, one could acknowledge that dogs have a mental capacity comparable to a small human child — that they are infants — and putting them in pajamas and cooing to them does not harm them. Indeed, dogs love such praise and attention even more than they love food — and they love food.
At one time, it would have been easy to ignore these professors, confined as they were to academia. Unfortunately, their thinking is no longer just about them, their identities, and their careers — an attempt to achieve notoriety among other equally narcissistic academics. It has moved off college campuses and increasingly informs agency policies that impact a growing number of people and animals.
Their views harm people by promoting racist, misanthropic, and misogynistic stereotypes about the capabilities and caring of people overall, particularly women and people of color. They pathologize homosexuality by equating the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community with backyard breeding and bestiality. And they upend a century of progress in animal protection. We ignore them — and fail to condemn these cruel and dangerous ideas publicly — at the animals’ peril.
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Guenther acknowledges the hardship. She writes,
When fostering disabled animals, my caregiving labor included administering medications multiple times a day; caring for wounds, surgical sites, and infections by changing bandages, giving baths, and/or applying topical treatments multiple times a day (often to animals who resisted such care either due to pain or enthusiasm); washing countless loads of laundry—often several a day—soiled with blood, pus, mucous, urine, feces, and/or vomit; cleaning and sterilizing soiled pee pads and flooring; taking dogs on “crate rest” outside on leash to relieve themselves; consoling animals in pain; entertaining dogs bored while restricted to crates or other enclosures while recovering; cooking for dogs needing special diets; baster- or spoon-feeding dogs unable or unwilling to eat independently; traveling to and from veterinary offices and speaking with veterinary staff to try to represent the needs of fosters and ensure they received necessary care.