By Jon Hochschartner
There was a time, not too long ago, when the animalists who took an intersectional approach were the critical thinkers in the anti-speciesist movement, challenging old dogmas. But recently this intersectionalism seems to have solidified into an unthinking fundamentalism. ‘Intersectionality’ has become the mindless mantra of the day, as ‘abolitionism’ was only five years before. To in anyway challenge its precedence is to flirt with exile from the movement’s mainstream. There are certain opportunistic bullies who wield intersectionalism like a cudgel to settle personal scores and raise their own profiles. But much of this ideological policing is done by a second tier who believe that in toeing a certain line bullies might focus their attention elsewhere.
Let me provide an example. It’s admittedly minor, but I see similar behavior all around me in the animalist movement. Recently, a piece of my writing was scheduled to appear in a beautifully-produced zine. That was until I got an email from the editor, asking me about a recent article I’d written in a different publication about what I saw as the excesses of intersectional animalism. “Unless you are able to clearly articulate how the aforementioned essay does not belittle the efforts of womxn across revolutionary class, race, gender, political, ability, and species movements,” the editor wrote, “I will not feel comfortable including your piece on terrorism in animalist movements in the upcoming issue.” Admittedly, I did not handle this inquiry well and was quite defensive. But it felt like an interrogation, like I was before some leftist Joe McCarthy, demanding to know whether I was now or had ever been problematic, to reference a Dan Savage tweet.
Here’s a little background on the offending article. In it, I explicitly defended intersectionality. For instance, in the opening paragraph, I wrote: “(Intersectionality) is obviously a worthwhile endeavor on its own terms. And simply from a strategic level it’s good in that a more inclusive struggle will be bigger and thus more effective.” Further, I pointed out that in the animalist movement I was mostly known for my essays on intersectionality. “In as much as anyone in the anti-speciesist movement is familiar with me,” I said, “it’s through my writing that sought to foster dialogue between socialists and animalists.” But that’s not where I got into trouble. Here’s a short passage I think fairly encapsulates the article’s heresy: “Internal criticism is necessary for the health of any movement. But recently, I believe the ratio of external to internal criticism has gotten out of whack. In today’s animalist environment, writers seem to receive recognition primarily based on the degree to which they minimize animal concerns in the face of human issues such as class, race, and gender, and criticize other animalists for doing so inadequately.” So, to recap, my article got bumped because I suggested intersectionality, like anything else, might be capable of excess. Again, it’s not really a big deal. But for a group that supposedly prizes open criticism, today’s proponents of intersectional animalism seem remarkably hostile to even mild dissent themselves.
As I mentioned previously, this is just one example of a growing trend I perceive in the animalist movement and the left in general. For instance, Will Potter, the investigative journalist and anti-speciesist, tweeted a link to a news story about protestors carrying a pig’s head at the Ferguson anniversary protests. Accompanying this link, he wrote, “Violent cops aren’t ‘pigs.’ Pigs are intelligent and compassionate. Not props for media stunts.” I think this position should be considered pretty innoccous by any self-respecting — or more accurately, non-human respecting— animalist. But apparently this wasn’t the case. Another relatively high-profile anti-speciesist took Potter to task, lambasting the journalist for ‘tone policing’ the Black Lives Matter movement, and seemed to insinuate Potter was racist for doing so, as if one can’t support a struggle while also offering criticism. This, it must be pointed out, is the sort of “you’re either with us or against us” logic that leftists justifiably lampooned when it was invoked by conservatives like George W. Bush. If the animalist movement forbids itself from even offering constructive criticism of fellow leftists who parade around with the corpse of a murdered non-human, it’s not worthy of calling itself ‘anti-speciesist.’ For some intersectional animalists, it seems intersectionality only goes one way.