And there were more. Adam and Eve covered themselves in animal skin after noticing their own nudity, which they needed to conceal from each other and the world.
Nature knows no indecencies, to paraphrase Mark Twain; we invent them. Then we teach them to our kids.
We also invent rankings. Consider the concept of a Great Chain of Being, illustrated in various ways but always with the implication that evolution is all about us. The Great Chain reverberates when we study nature as "kingdoms" – and when scholarly humans set us as the gold standard in ability and worth (for example, showcasing the brilliance of parrots or apes or dogs who pass tests devised by researchers).
Eighteenth-century Dutch anatomist Petrus Camper found a "facial angle" on a degreed scale from orangutans to Africans to "Orientals" to Europeans; and Samuel Morton's Crania Americana (1839) seriously considers several naturalists who divided humans from different "aboriginal nations" into distinct species.
"I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites," wrote Enlightenment philosopher David Hume. Hume added that there was, in Jamaica, "talk of one negroe" as learned, "but 'tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly."
The sex classification would, through the generations, be wielded similarly to kick talented people out of history.
The Stability of Subordination
Zora Neale Hurston connected an aspect of race-based custom with petkeeping, describing the “pet Negro” system in which some early twentieth-century U.S. elites picked out a few of their workers for gifts and privileges, scholarships and jobs, lending inequality the stability of interdependence.
The potential of animal advocacy hinges on our challenging the interdependences of petkeeping itself, at its very roots, at the deep level where classes are constructed while we foster relationships that feel cuddly and affectionate.
Not that animal liberation precisely parallels movements to empower people to reach their human potential. Animal liberation involves freedom from human society. So we must distinguish animals bred as pets and farm commodities, on one hand, from animals who could flourish without our care and control.
To date, advocates elide and confuse the needs of the purpose-bred and the free-living by bringing the animal-control model into natural habitats: for example, imposing birth control on free-roaming deer, elephants, or horses.
Responsibility for the convoluted notion that animal advocacy includes pharmaceutical population control of free-living animals might well lie with Peter Singer. In Animal Liberation (1975), Singer wrote, about prolific groups of animals:
If it is true that in special circumstances their population grows to such an extent that they damage their own environment and the prospects of their own survival, or that of other animals who share their habitat, then it may be right for humans to take some supervisory action; but obviously if we consider the interests of the animals, this action will not be to let hunters go in, killing and wounding the animals, but rather to reduce the fertility of the animals. If we made an effort to develop more humane methods of population control for wild animals in reserves, it would not be difficult to come up with something better than what is done now. The trouble is that the authorities responsible for wildlife have a “harvest” mentality, and are not interested in finding techniques of population control which would reduce the number of animals to be “harvested” by hunters.
Twenty-five years later, in Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child Or the Dog?, Gary L. Francione restated Singer’s argument without questioning it.
The time is ripe for questioning it unremittingly. A serious model of animal liberation requires an express recognition that imposing birth control on animal bodies violates those bodies, and those communities – and organizes resistance.
(Does that mean we should oppose the neutering of cats and dogs? No. Humans have already manipulated the reproductive processes of these animals, so they lack the genuine ability to reproduce and raise their young on their terms. A phasing out of pet breeding is a positive goal. It counters animal exploitation, as it defends wildcats and wolves from being selectively changed to suit our whims.)
What led Singer to bring up birth control for free-living animals in the first place? The earliest instance I can find of Singer discussing this appears in a tentative, parenthetical phase in a 1973 letter for The New York Review of Books. Asked whether we have a moral duty to protect gazelles from lions, Singer replies:
Lions play a role in the ecology of their habitat, and we cannot be sure what the long-term consequences would be if we were to prevent them from killing gazelles. (The way to do this, I suppose, would be by eliminating lions, perhaps by sterilization.) So, in practice, I would definitely say that wildlife should be left alone.
Later in this same letter, Singer overwrites the prescription that free animals be "left alone" by hypothetically stating:
If, in some way, we could be reasonably certain that interfering with wildlife in a particular way would, in the long run, greatly reduce the amount of killing and suffering in the animal world, it would, I think, be right to interfere.
Also in the same letter, Singer recommends imposing vegan diets on pets, including cats, thus reinforcing the practice of keeping pets in our society without questioning the privilege.
Singer's conflicted letter, second-guessing the role of lions, summons, to my mind, the Peaceable Kingdom archetype. Under this regime, the wolf lives with the lamb, and the leopard lies down with the kid. Risky animals become so tame that a human child can lead them. So the well-ordered fantasy puts the smallest of humans in charge of Earth’s most formidable animals.
Real wildcats and wolves would disrupt the fantasy, but we insist on remaking them and neutralizing their predatory traits.
And we save the lamb. A common happy ending in advocacy involves a domesticated animal rescued to be cuddled rather than eaten. There are sanctuaries that refer to themselves as heavens on Earth. The "stability of interdependence" can allow us to portray dependence as s perfect situation.
We are so often keen romanticize the results of our own control.
We constantly hear, approvingly, that people love their dogs. We hear that animal lawyers are succeeding in winning for them a heightened value wherever they are selected to be members of the family.
Hard questions will come from a social movement that interrogates our habit of subordinating animals – whether to be food, service providers, guards, research subjects or pets – a movement that doesn't begrudge free-living animals their liberty. Granted, this approach presents risks – beginning with the risk of stepping out from the crowd and questioning human sovereignty.