Memes About Animal Resistance Are Everywhere — Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Laugh off Rebellious Orcas and Sea Otters Too Quickly

By Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond, an associate professor emerita of comparative literature at the University of California, San Diego. Originally published at The Conversation.

Memes galore centered on the “orca revolution” have inundated the online realm. They gleefully depict orcas launching attacks on boats in the Strait of Gibraltar and off the Shetland coast.

One particularly ingenious image showcases an orca posed as a sickle crossed with a hammer. The cheeky caption reads, “Eat the rich,” a nod to the orcas’ penchant for sinking lavish yachts.

A surfboard-snatching sea otter in Santa Cruz, California has also claimed the media spotlight. Headlines dub her an “adorable outlaw” “at large.”

Memes position the otter as a renegade revolutionary, modeled on Ché Guevara. thesurfingotter via Instagram

Memes conjure her in a beret like the one donned by socialist revolutionary Ché Guevara. In one caption, she proclaims, “Accept our existence or expect resistance … an otter world is possible.”

My scholarship centers on animal-human relations through the prism of social justice. As I see it, public glee about wrecked surfboards and yachts hints at a certain flavor of schadenfreude. At a time marked by drastic socioeconomic disparities, white supremacy and environmental degradation, casting these marine mammals as revolutionaries seems like a projection of desires for social justice and habitable ecosystems.

A glimpse into the work of some political scientists, philosophers and animal behavior researchers injects weightiness into this jocular public dialogue. The field of critical animal studies analyzes structures of oppression and power and considers pathways to dismantling them. These scholars’ insights challenge the prevailing view of nonhuman animals as passive victims. They also oppose the widespread assumption that nonhuman animals can’t be political actors.

So while meme lovers project emotions and perspectives onto these particular wild animals, scholars of critical animal studies suggest that nonhuman animals do in fact engage in resistance.

Nonhuman Animal Protest Is Everywhere

Are nonhuman animals in a constant state of defiance? I’d answer, undoubtedly, that the answer is yes.

The entire architecture of animal agriculture attests to animals’ unyielding resistance against confinement and death. Cages, corrals, pens and tanks would not exist were it not for animals’ tireless revolt.

Even when hung upside down on conveyor hangars, chickens furiously flap their wings and bite, scratch, peck and defecate on line workers at every stage of the process leading to their deaths.

Until the end, hooked tuna resist, gasping and writhing fiercely on ships’ decks. Hooks, nets and snares would not be necessary if fish allowed themselves to be passively harvested.

If they consented to repeated impregnation, female pigs and cows wouldn’t need to be tethered to “rape racks” to prevent them from struggling to get away.

If they didn’t mind having their infants permanently taken from their sides, dairy cows wouldn’t need to be blinded with hoods so they don’t bite and kick as the calves are removed; they wouldn’t bellow for weeks after each instance. I contend that failure to recognize their bellowing as protest reflects “anthropodenial” – what ethologist Frans de Waal calls the rejection of obvious continuities between human and nonhuman animal behavior, cognition and emotion.

The prevalent view of nonhuman animals remains that of René Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who viewed animals’ actions as purely mechanical, like those of a machine. From this viewpoint, one might dismiss these nonhuman animals’ will to prevail as unintentional or merely instinctual. But political scientist Dinesh Wadiwel argues that “even if their defiance is futile, the will to prefer life over death is a primary act of resistance, perhaps the only act of dissent available to animals who are subject to extreme forms of control.”

Creaturely Escape Artists

Despite humans’ colossal efforts to repress them, nonhuman animals still manage to escape from slaughterhouses. They also break out of zoos, circuses, aquatic parks, stables and biomedical laboratories. Tilikum, a captive orca at Sea World, famously killed his trainer – an act at least one marine mammal behaviorist characterized as intentional.

Philosopher Fahim Amir suggests that depression among captive animals is likewise a form of emotional rebellion against unbearable conditions, a revolt of the nerves. Dolphins engage in self-harm like thrashing against the tank’s walls or cease to eat and retain their breath until death. Sows whose body-sized cages impede them from turning around to make contact with their piglets repeatedly ram themselves into the metal struts, sometimes succumbing to their injuries.

Critical animal studies scholars contend that all these actions arguably demonstrate nonhuman animals’ yearning for freedom and their aversion to inequity.

As for the marine stars of summer 2023’s memes, fishing gear can entangle and harm orcas. Sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction for their fur. Marine habitats have been degraded by human activities including overfishing, oil spills, plastic, chemical and sonic pollution, and climate change. It’s easy to imagine they might be responding to human actions, including bodily harm and interference with their turf.

What Is Solidarity with Nonhuman Animals?

Sharing memes that cheer on wild animals is one thing. But there are more substantive ways to demonstrate solidarity with animals.

Legal scholars support nonhuman animals’ resistance by proposing that their current classification as property should be replaced with that of personhood or beingness.

Nonhuman animals including songbirds, dolphins, elephants, horses, chimpanzees and bears increasingly appear as plaintiffs alleging their subjection to extinction, abuse and other injustices.

Citizenship for nonhuman animals is another pathway to social and political inclusion. It would guarantee the right to appeal arbitrary restrictions of domesticated nonhuman animals’ autonomy. It would also mandate legal duties to protect them from harm.

Everyday deeds can likewise convey solidarity.

Boycotting industries that oppress nonhuman animals by becoming vegan is a powerful action. It is a form of political “counter-conduct,” a term philosopher Michel Foucault uses to describe practices that oppose dominant norms of power and control.

Creating roadside memorials for nonhuman animals killed by motor vehicles encourages people to see them as beings whose lives and deaths matter, rather than mere “roadkill.”

Political scientists recognize that human and nonhuman animals’ struggles against oppression are intertwined. At different moments, the same strategies leveraged against nonhuman animals have cast segments of the human species as “less than human” in order to exploit them.

The category of the human is ever-shifting and ominously exclusive. I argue that no one is safe as long as there is a classification of “animality.” It confers susceptibility to extravagant forms of violence, legally and ethically condoned.

Might an ‘Otter World’ Be Possible?

I believe quips about the marine mammal rebellion reflect awareness that our human interests are entwined with those of nonhuman animals. The desire to achieve sustainable relationships with other species and the natural world feels palpable to me within the memes and media coverage. And it’s happening as human-caused activity makes our shared habitats increasingly unlivable.

Solidarity with nonhuman animals is consistent with democratic principles – for instance, defending the right to well-being and opposing the use of force against innocent subjects. Philosopher Amir recommends extending the idea that there can be no freedom as long as there is still unfreedom beyond the species divide: “While we may not yet fully be able to picture what this may mean, there is no reason we should not begin to imagine it”.

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  1. SK

    Beautiful thought provoking piece. I had no idea that animals in captivity struggled till the end. Call me naive but we don’t see how animals are murdered, we see them as products in a grocery store, graded for quality and cut.
    A thought experiment to consider is if powerful aliens were to arrive here, and consider humans a delicacy, eating our young as a special treat, harvesting organs for scientific purposes, and subjecting us to all the horrors that humans subject to non-human animals. What would be our plea to the aliens? But humans are so delicious. We have always eaten humans. There are so many humans it won’t make a difference.

    1. John R Moffett

      Yes, reminds me of the old Twilight Zone Episode where large aliens come to earth and claim they are here to “serve humans”. They hand the humans a book with that title, but unfortunately for humans, it turns out to be the alien’s cookbook.

      1. nycTerrierist

        this is why i am a vegetarian
        if that makes me an ‘extremist’ so be it
        yes this is ‘inconvenient’
        I am extremely opposed to cruelty to animals
        be they non-human or human

        1. Jabura Basaidai

          hate zoos and no amount of rationalization that it “preserves” the species convinces me – went one time only as a kid and felt sorry for all the animals, primates in particular because they reminded me of us, was the last time i ever visited one – was a vegetarian, non lacto-ovarian too – lasted 12 years then working at a seafood restaurant started to eat seafood again and across the street was Eastern Market in Detroit where i would pick up amish chickens – stopped seafood after Fukushima, but till fish for stream trout in northern michigan, lake fish have had PCB’s in them for decades and now with PFOA’s in the rain and found in stream fish, have stopped eating them too but still fish with a catch and release – still eat chicken but when i stop to pick up my CSA share i look at the hens and wonder – if you don’t eat meat make sure you take a B supplement i was told by my doctor, we evolved as meat-eaters and need the B’s that are missing from veggies – don’t think you are extreme by any metric – worked in a natural foods restaurant in Oahu back in the 70’s and didn’t find it inconvenient at all to make tasteful dishes without meat – my daughter and her husband are vegetarians but have started to add cheese to their diet – not conflicted about eating chickens but respect your choice and stay on the good path you’re following – and i find it delightfully wonderful that the animals are fighting back – as i’ve mentioned before, humans are a pathogen upon this planet and i try to be as benign as possible and feel more sorrow for our non-human companions on the blue marble than for my fellow humans that disregard their ability to live in balance with the earth – our time is coming to an end but the earth will continue along without us it’s too bad we are taking our fur, feathered and scaly friends with us –

        2. JonnyJames

          I don’t think vegetarians are extreme. I think there are probably a billion vegetarians in India alone. Vegans are extreme IMO.
          Dairy products can be produced without cruelty.

          1. Ridgewood James

            Years ago someone alleged to me that diclofenac was abused in the subcontinent to extract more labour from exhausted water buffalo.

            The alleged abuse of this diclofenac caused the massive die off of vultures, resulting in animal carcases dotting the landscape.

  2. timbers

    I add banning private yatchs to my demand private jets be banned and billionaires be taxed out of existence.

  3. John R Moffett

    Animals are quite amazing in their capacity to understand and try to foil human’s plans. I hope they continue to do so.

  4. Bosko

    Thanks for this article and its many interesting links. I read Fahid Amir’s book Being and Swine last year and was quite moved by it.

  5. DJG, Reality Czar

    This article is a tad too brainy, and it is filtered through an academic understanding of animals. Like most Americans, she seems not to have been around animals. Suddenly, she notices that beavers live in family groups (!), dogs have a sense of humor (!), and parrots can play with words (!).

    As ever, it may help knowing something (please, something, just a whisper) of the classics:
    –With a name like Isfahani, doesn’t she know Attar’s Conference of the Birds?
    –Is it too much to know Aristophanes and The Birds??

    And one of the most famous observations from antiquity:
    A Cow Mourning For Her Calf

    Oft at some consecrated altar-side,
    Where fragrant incense burns, a calf lies slain,
    And from his breast breathes out the warm life-tide:
    But the lone mother, o’er the grassy land
    Far ranging, sees his cloven hoof-prints plain,
    And leaves with roving eyes no spot unscanned
    For her lost young, and fills with lowings wild
    The shady wood; then tireless turns again
    To the bare stall, sore stricken for her child.
    Naught can the dewy grass, or tender leaf,
    Or brimming river-bank, once fondly known,
    Avail to bannish that o’er-mastering grief;
    Nor by the sight of other calves, upgrown
    In the fair fields, is her sad heart beguiled:
    So deeply yearns she for her one, her own.

    Lucretius – De Rerum Natura, II, 352-366

    And going back even further–the Metta Sutra.

    Pretending every day that everything is brand new gets kind of tiring, no?


      You hit the nail on the head. Posh academics secluded in their perfectly clean Ivory Towers suddenly realizing that animals feel and experience the world not unlike humans.

      It’s appalling to me the fawning praise this article has gotten in the comments so far. Do we really need people with PhDs to tell us to be kind and have empathy for all Life?

      If so, then our predicament is truly hopeless.

    2. Jabura Basaidai

      most humans have lost their way unfortunately – to me though every day is new and appreciate this side of the dirt – the ‘need’ for new plastic BS foisted upon us by Bernays nonsense every day is very very tiring and i guess that’s what you meant, not the discovery of something new in the natural world that surrounds us if we only open our eyes – love the classics, thank you so much for sharing – love y’all on this site – keeps my glass half-full when veering to half-empty – the Lucretius poem made me think of Lysistrata by Aristophanes –

  6. Eclair

    Well, that was an uncomfortable read! As it should be.

    I got to thinking about dairy farms, even the small ones, 100 milkers or less. The modern milk cow has been bred for milk production. No mammal in nature ever had udders so enormous that they sway when the animal walks.

    And, the pastoral farm where plows and carts are pulled by draft horses, rather than fossil fuel tractors. Who are systematically ‘broken’ so they become docile and will follow the direction of humans, from walking a straight line in the field to returned placidly to their stalls at night. Instead of running free.

    And, my neighbor’s rooster, Sven, who caused such a ruckus, running at the ankles of any human who tried to herd his hens into the coop at dark, that he was scheduled for extinction. He actually eluded capture and strode about in the back fields, crowing cockily, for over a week. Finally, he was captured and driven 20 miles out to a wilderness area, and released to be put to a ‘natural’ death to become a meal for a fox, a fisher, a coyote, or maybe an eagle.

    The hawk probably doesn’t feel sorry for the field mouse, struggling in its claws, nor does the robin mourn for the juicy slug it feeds to its voracious young. They go out and hunt for lunch, every day. Otherwise, they die. Humans have managed to take that immediacy, that feeling of ‘if I don’t kill this deer now, I am probably going to starve,’ and turn it into a mundane decision between ‘do you want that steak medium or well-done?’

  7. furnace

    Jeffrey St. Clair has an old piece that reminds that for most of human history, animals had legal rights (though it is anachronistic to call them rights, perhaps). This current view of animals as things, mostly popularized by Descartes as the author of the piece points out, is remarkably recent. Animals were seen as having a right to be defended in court, and these trials were taken seriously (I believe there is ample evidence of such trials taking place all around the world; certainly in Europe and the colonies they are well-documented).

    As he puts it,

    Though now largely lost to history, these trials followed the same convoluted rules of legal procedure used in cases involving humans. Indeed, as detailed in E. P. Evans’ remarkable book, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), humans and animals were frequently tried together in the same courtroom as co-conspirators, especially in cases of bestiality. The animal defendants were appointed their own lawyers at public expense. Animals enjoyed appeal rights and there are several instances when convictions were overturned and sentences reduced or commuted entirely. Sometimes, particularly in cases involving pigs, the animal defendants were dressed in human clothes during court proceedings and at executions.

    The piece as a whole is an interesting read for anyone who might be further interested in the subject.

  8. Godfree Roberts

    It’s time to recognize the pioneering work of the Short Tailed Sting Ray that took out Steve Irwin (after South Park’s takedown not only failed, but was interpreted by Australians as praise).

    The 6’6″ ray killed him with a strike between the ribs, directly into the heart.

    So died the animal world’s most famous human pest, exploiter and tormentor.


    So this navel-gazing crap is what American academia produces? Nonsense like:

    My scholarship centers on animal-human relations through the prism of social justice.

    Andrei Martyanov is right, American elites are incapable of doing anything.

    The world burns and the best we get are academics writing about memes; an infantile attempt to appear serious in the face of extinction.

    And this is coming from a (long ago) philosophy student, so don’t whine to me about the supposed importance of the humanities.

    1. skk

      Yeah, I was enjoying what I misread as a reprise of orca attacks on boats but paused a long while, sighed and then only skimmed the rest of the article after that phrase “prism of social justice ”
      Perhaps the prism of having a bash at seeing things thru the prism of the animals themselves, might be more useful. Yeah it’s difficult, takes a LOT of observation and reading and viewing carefully animal researcher studies.

      On 2nd scanning, I realized the article was headlined as about the MEMES, not the animals at all. Now I realize what the prism really was.

    2. hunkerdown

      If “social liberal” praxis does not find souls to convert to its post-Christianity, it tasks itself with creating them.

  10. Mildred Montana

    I think animals are more intelligent than most humans understand—and I speak here only of domesticated ones such as cats, dogs, cows, horses, etc. Imagine the presumably higher intelligence of those hardy survivors in the wild with which we have little contact. They have a strong will to live, to breed, and the smarts to back it up.

    Funny that this post should show up this morning because I was thinking of this very topic on my pre-dawn walk. My thoughts led me to this: With increasing population and penetration of the wilderness by humans, it’s likely animals no longer view us as occasional 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘭𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘴, to be ignored or chased off their territory. Through experience they have learned to view us as 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘦𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘴—for scarce food and a threat to their lives. That’s why lions kill hyenas.

    Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing a bit but there’s little doubt animals have memories of us and what we have done (intelligent birds such as crows certainly do). Will cougars, for example, act on their bad experiences with humans and begin attacking them and their pets? Unfortunately I expect so, and that goes for other encounters as well.

    1. GF

      “Will cougars, for example, act on their bad experiences with humans and begin attacking them and their pets?”

      In our town recently we had four mountain lions doing just that – well they didn’t attack the humans but ate quite a few pets. The solution was not to capture them and relocate them into the wilds, but to kill all four for the safety of the community. No one asked the residents their thoughts on the matter.

  11. Mikel

    Alot of the exploits of bears, that have been caught on camera, have me giving them the side eye…

  12. ambrit

    As others here have observed, a ‘Day in the Country’ will quickly disabuse even the most minimally reflective individual of any misconceptions concerning animal cognitive and empathic abilities. My ‘awakening’ moment was an encounter with a dolphin in the water off of the shore of ‘The Beach’ back when I was a teen. I, being the youngest on the little boat, had been thrown in the water to check the shear pin on the propeller. Wearing mask and flippers, I looked up and the others on the boat were looking just behind me intently. I turned around and found a dolphin about three to five feet away, looking at me. Then it grinned. Dolphins have lots of large pointy teeth. I have never found out what such a display from a dolphin means to them. Maybe I don’t really want to know. Those eyes were alert and somehow “human” looking underwater.
    The first rule of living ‘in the wild’ is to discount preconceived notions. Learn from your environment. Take the data accumulated and reflect upon it. Draw conclusions and continue on. True science at work, and at play.
    Maybe I’m “preaching to the choir” but I often muse about Terran human’s propensity to view themselves as the “Crown of Creation.” Such a vision is antithetical to humility. The last few centuries can be seen as the reign of the ‘Cult of Science.’ The basic idea underlying that cult is the belief, and belief is the right word here, that all Creation can be understood and manipulated according to and to the benefit of Terran human wishes. As such, Terran humans proceed according to the tenets of “Magical Thinking.” ‘Magic’ being, strictly speaking, a belief in things, processes, and effects, unseen. On a lesser plane, ‘magic’ blends imperceptably with ‘science.’ Given that, it becomes clear that the ancient Alchemists were Europe’s proto-scientists. The Alchemists transformed ‘Magical Performance’ into ‘Scientific Deduction.’ The same should be happening in the fields of the Natural Sciences.
    The above is a long winded and somewhat pretentious way of saying that we know but little of the world around us, and a half of what we believe we know is wrong. A little bit of humility is in order. I’ll go a step farther and say the “a little bit of humility” might be the saving of us all.
    Sorry for the rant.
    Stay safe.

    1. EY

      We are often very afraid of animals when mostly we are the ones inflicting harm. There could be another way to approach them. From Moitessier’s The Long Way Back: ..”Passing Stewart Island off the southern tip of New Zealand on a misty day he heard whistling and hurried on deck to find nearly a hundred dolphins in the water around him. As he watched 25 of them swam from stern to bow and then veered off at a right angle. They repeated the move over and over. He looked down at his compass. He was headed straight for the fog-shrouded rocks of Stewart Island. He changed tack to the right, and one of the dolphins celebrated with a somersault.”

  13. Moishe Pippik

    It is worth noting that the vegan diet promoted by the author is a privilege available only to the richest humans on earth. There are no vegans when getting enough to eat is a daily struggle.
    Nor is a vegan diet the great savior of the climate that its advocates think it is. I have never met a vegan who is willing to do an honest assessment of the carbon footprint of the vegetables that have to be transported hundreds or thousands of miles on diesel powered contrivances to feed them.

    1. mrsyk

      Thanks. I was going to comment along these lines. I’ll add there’s no shortage of genetic engineering involved in the booming vegan prepared foods market. As to your declaration “There are no vegans when getting enough to eat is a daily struggle.” I would make it “vegans by choice”.

    2. turtle

      Umm, both your claims are utterly wrong, at least considering industrially farmed animals, which is what most people eat. They would only be true if you tried to twist the data and then applied creative interpretation to that twisted data. Vegetables are cheaper than meat at any supermarket anywhere. A vegan diet also has been demonstrated to produce a much smaller carbon and general environmental impact than meat. Both things should be obvious on their face when you consider that the animals we eat are mostly raised eating farmed vegetable matter. It’s mathematically impossible that eating something that eats vegetable matter would be either cheaper or produce less carbon than eating the vegetables in the first place.

      Your arguments remind of the ridiculous “study” that I read once that tried to claim that industrial farming of vegetables killed more animals than animal farming itself, with things like tractors running over small field animals and what not. Be serious.

      1. Moishe Pippik

        Dear turtle:
        The lamb I ate for supper last night was raised on my farm, grass fed, slaughtered humanely( by me) and lived its entire life within 200 yards of my house. To insist that your vegan vegetables, which come to you from far away aboard trains, ships and trucks, is somehow more sustainable than my home grown lamb (served by the way with my home grown potatoes, leeks, onions. garlic and rosemary) is patently nonsensical.
        When vegans argue against the raising of animals why do they immediately jump to the most extreme case of factory farming?
        Try raising your own food for a change. You’ll approach this issue from a whole different perspective.

        1. juno mas

          The animal abuse being referred to is from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). Those raising their own food, animal or vegetable, using regenerative principles (grass fed/non-chemical) are not the focus. There are many reasons for reducing CAFO’s beyond their cruelty: pollution of clean water resources being but one.

        2. turtle

          Dear Moishe,

          That’s commendable, honestly. I’m glad that you’re able to do that, but it’s the exception to the rule. Like I mentioned, “at least considering industrially farmed animals”. We jump to industrial farming when discussing things like this because we are addressing the bulk of the food supply in industrialized nations, the same nations that generate most carbon output.

          I hope that you recognize that the vast majority of people in industrialized nations are not in a position to grow their own food. Believe me, I’ve tried, but with only a balcony in which to do so (and I’m lucky to even have that), it’s little more than a hobby.

          That’s a fair argument that you make that a significant portion of vegetables that vegans eat come from far away places. I could mount an equivalent defense as the one you’re using with “but I only eat locally grown vegetables” (I don’t, this is rhetorical only), but I think it would be most productive to keep the conversation to the mainstream of both meat-based and plant-based diets, and not the outliers.

          The fact is that most people’s meat-based diets in the United States come with a surplus of greenhouse gases being sent to the atmosphere and environmental destruction relative to plant-based diets, along with egregiously inhumane treatment of animals.

    3. some guy

      Or the extermination of the mixed-species mutli-animal-supporting habitats called “pastures” and “range” in favor mono-species industrial vegetable deserts to grow vegan food for privileged vegans.

      I remember several decades ago in upper state New York looking at a field of some kind of plants probably to be harvested as hay for animals eventually. But when I was looking at it, it was thinly sprinkled with singing male bobolinks defending their territories all over that planted field. But lets ban meat and milk to show our solidarity with animals, and show we mean it by turning those bobolink hayfields into corn-soy-vegetable deserts or into suburban housing after we have abolished that land’s owners’ ability to make a living supporting many kinds of wild animal/bird/insect life as a by-product of supporting domestic animals for milk or meat.

      I also note the preening moral display in the pretense that plants don’t have feelings and that salad isn’t murder and break isn’t mass infanticide.

      1. Starry Gordon

        Many, many years ago, I decided to go to a vegetarian diet for health or medical reasons which had not the slightest thing to do with the sin of ethicality. To my surprise, people who knew little or nothing about me, on realizing in some context like going to a restaurant that I was a vegetarian, would go out of their way to attack my entirely personal practice with great vigor and persistance. Public figures would sometimes get into it — I believe Mr. Limgaugh denounced vegetarians as people who were destroying America. Of course this just got my Irish back up — people who lecture me do so at their rhetorical peril — so I went to the books and studied, so when the anti-vegetarians started up, I could bury them under a torrent of philosophy, political theory, wit, and so forth. This generally shut them up for the occasion, although sometimes it took several minutes, but for some years there was always a next one coming. What I could not understand, though, was what was driving these people. Remember, I was not lecturing them, but they would tell me at length about how my taste for rice was murdering trillions of mice or something. In more recent years, the practice of resenting and haranguing vegetarians for their crimes seemed to have died down, but going by some of the comments, here you are, still with the same old routines. What is bothering you? If you’re uncomfortable with your beliefs and practices, why don’t you review and possibly change them? They’re not my fault.

        1. some guy

          I was not lecturing you. I was lecturing the veganist militants who fabricate excuses to persecute and forbid artisan pasture and range animal raising by false extension of objections raised to CAFO animal raising.

          How do you know the people who lectured you about rice hadn’t just been abused and lectured by veganist PETA types and confused you with them?

      2. turtle

        Good grief with the poorly thought-out arguments that come out of the woodwork when discussions about not eating meat come up.

        Raising animals for meat consumes multiple times as much plant calories as it would take if you fed the plants directly to humans. I read a few years ago is that it takes 7 times as much, but a recent study showed that a meat-based diet produces about twice as much carbon output as a plant-based diet, so it may be more like 2 times or somewhere between 2 and 7 times. So if humans ate less meat, it would vastly *reduce* the amount of mono-species industrial farming of plants, not increase it. This should be obvious on its face with any thought into the science of it. To claim otherwise, you would have to demonstrate that animals produce more calories of meat than the calories that they consume from plants.

        Are you really claiming that plants have feelings and salad is murder? Come on, now.

        1. some guy

          Are you really claiming that plants don’t have feelings and salad isn’t murder? On what basis are you claiming that?

          Since ruminant mammals are able to eat plants that people can’t eat at all, the “multiple times as much” argument only applies to humanly edible food fed to animals instead. It doesn’t apply to artisan animals raised on pasture and range which people can’t directly eat. But since the author of this article and articles like it wants to forbid open-air pasture and range artisan animal raising just as much as the author and authors like her want to suppress CAFO animal raising, she carefully avoids mentioning that distinction.

          And this article was not restricting itself to grain-fed CAFO meat. It was carefully confusing that with artisan pasture-range meat.

          1. turtle

            I’m skipping your first line.

            You’re the third person in this thread trying the “but small farms!” line or equivalent. Most meat and dairy consumed by people in the United States comes from industrial farms. There’s no point to debating outliers. Let’s debate the bulk of the problem that this article addresses.

            Regarding feeding plants to animals that humans then eat or instead feeding those plants to humans directly, you’re again arguing an outlier. The majority of animals eaten by humans eat farmed plants, be it corn, soy, alfalfa, etc. Whether those plants are edible by humans or not is immaterial. The land that those plants are grown on could grow plants that would be edible by humans.

            The fact remains that eating meat and dairy is, in its majority (i.e., from industrial farms), both an environmental and an animal welfare disaster. It’s impossible to successfully argue otherwise.

            If you would be willing to eliminate all non open-air pasture and non free-range animal farming only, then we could maybe agree on something.

            1. some guy

              So ban the majority CAFO practice and only permit pasture-and-range meat.

              If that is really what the author intended, she would have said so. She would not have said ” be vegan”.

              And some people do have the option of buying and eating artisanal meat, milk and dairy at artisanal prices. I buy my meat from a local pasture-range farm called Vestergard Meats, for example.

              People who can not afford the artisanal price for pro-eco artisanal meat may well have to go vegan.

              1. turtle

                Sure, I recognize that people have the option of buying and eating meat and dairy from humane farms. Most don’t, because industrial meat and dairy is cheaper and more convenient. Just one more negative feedback loop of capitalism.

                >People who can not afford the artisanal price for pro-eco artisanal meat may well have to go vegan.

                I think this is ultimately what the discussion boils down to. Banning industrial animal farming would probably result in most people going vegan, or at least drastically curtailing their consumption of animal products, just from the financial pressure, not to mention that artisanal meat and dairy would not be able to scale to the current volumes of the industrial versions.

  14. Schopsi

    Animal intelligence is a favourite topic of mine, I try to devour as much popular science literature about it as I can get my hands on.

    What pops again and again is researchers admitting to actually constantly downplaying what their experience tells them about Just how intelligent and emotional animals actually are, for fear of being accused of anthropomorphizing them.

    But to insist on categorical instead of gradual differences between them and US seems to require for unneeded assumptions and outright wild conjecture.

    We evolved to recognize other minds, and while we may have gone overboard with ascribing minds and agency to natural forces and processes and inanimate objects, the opposite extreme of denying mind and agency where is clearly present is every b
    it as absurd and more harmful, and surely at least the “higher” animals that evolved side by side with US, fall exactly within the comfort zone where our mind-detector is at it’s most reliable.

    Doubting the inner life of our fellow mammals (not saying that non-mammals don’t have a rich inner life, just that they are easiest and most obvious to read for us) makes about as much sense as calling every human being except ourselves a philosophical zombie.

    And even the gradual differences may often be far smaller than many of us may want to acknowledge.

    There is an ever growing mountainrange of evidence that seems to strongly that many animals, perhaps most or even all vertebrates have emotions, and many not just the most basic ones, consciousness, some ability to learn, remember, think.

    We know there are animals that clearly have a sense of self, that can count, who develop lifelong friendships, recognizing each other immediately after being separated for many years, have a form of culture, pass on their traditions, are creative and compose songs just for the joy of it, can count and do some degree of mathematical calculations, altrustically help each other, even non relatives and sometimes members of other species, mourn their dead and show an awareness of morality, recognize the bare bones of members of their own species, hold grudges and occasionally seek revenge but also demonstrated gratitude, can suffer from psychological traumata and mental illness, show signs of higher level abstract thinking, forming concepts and sorting them into categories, make associations and draw conclusions, are capable of understanding or even formulating complex sentences, call each other by unique, individual names, etc, etc, etc.

    Some researchers go so far as to say that some behaviors of for example elephants would be best explained by ascribing some sense of spirituallity, ritual, religion even, or at least what one might call a sort of proto religion if preferred.

    I think that cetaceans, dolphins like the Orcas very likely have all the mental tools and capabilities we have, just probably to somewhat less sophisticated a degree.

    The toolbox contains all the tools though.

    I think it is at least permitted by the evidence to take what I’d call a maximalist position:

    What the orcas are doing doesn’t just look like rebellion, it is exactly that.

    Conscious, knowing, calculated, intentional acts of rebellion and sabotage, guerilla warfare.

    One of the (many) things I strongly suspect we still heavily underestimate about animals and their minds, at least the supersmart ones like orcas, ravens and crows, elephants and so on, is the degree to which they are able to understand us, what we are and do and to form a sort of big picture.

    A question asked in the comments on this very blog not long ago was why orcas, alone among all large, powerful predators never try to hunt us, as far as anyone can tell never have done so.

    Why do they deliberately sink our boats but just as deliberately avoid killing us even when it would easy to do so?

    Perhaps, just perhaps (partially?) because they realize that we are like them and they are like us, in many, many ways.

    They have interacted with us for tens of thousands of years, even a tiger distinguishes between humans and their tools and makes a difference between different sorts of weapons, and orcas are much, much cleverer than any cat.

    Some animals clearly seem to have a sense of the future, they are not just living in the moment, they can pass complex knowledge to the next generation, so complex that we are still just scratching the surface of understanding how they communicate it amongst themselves, on top of that cetaceans tend to live long when they reach adulthood and we don’t cut their lifes short in some way.

    Why would they not be able to understand that their world is radically and quickly changing for the worse?

    That they would not register the fish they may themselves remember being abundant only decades ago disappearing, more and more each year?

    Animals probably far less smart and capable of abstraction than dolphins have shown a degree of understanding of numbers or differing, changing quantities.

    I see no reason to assume they would not be able to recognize a “trend” and even project where it might lead.

    If they have an awareness of their mortality, which is heavily indicated by evidence, a conscious awareness of their own needs, this awareness need in no way be restricted to the individual level, but could easily be broader and more abstract.

    They obviously know we catch fish, they cooperated and in some paces still cooperate with fishermen and many of them are nomads, traveling all over the planet, seeing what’s going on everywhere.

    Is it absurd to think they might in some way, to some degree actually understand what is Happening, to everything they know and depended in, what we are doing, that there is something new, a problem, and that we are it’s root?

    What if they actually are getting it, connecting the dots, putting two and two together, realize that they are starving, that they are dying, their whole world is disappearing and we are the ones destroying it?

    They are packhunters whose livlihood depends on predicting and collectively influencing the behavior of other living beings and their minds/agency-detector might work about as well as ours, perhaps without our tendency to not see what we don’t want to see.

    But perhaps they share even that trait, explaining why they didn’t start attacking much earlier.

    On the other hand it might have taken a couple of above average individuals in combination with really fast and dramatic change within a single lifetime, at least to start the process.

    “Are you listening now?”

    If there is a “radicalisation”, if attacks continue to increase, if they start for the first time ever in the wild to deliberately hurt or kill humans (with continued, complete disinterest in eating them), if more and more orcas join in, that might be interpreted as support for my little theory.

    The disappearance of their food is obviously only one of many terrible things we are doing to them and their home, though an association perhaps easier to make than many others (though their preference doesn’t seem to be to attack small fishing boats, they might yet start to act more strategically).

    In any case we might still be in the opening phase of the Orca Intifada.

    If there is anything to it, if we are Israel and they truly are akin to palestinian children starting to throw rocks at our tanks, possibly trying to figure a way to upgrade to molotov cocktails, it’s heartbreaking to think about.

    Well, it’s heartbreaking no matter what.

    1. Eric F

      Thanks for this.
      My theory is that Orcas are every bit as smart as you say, and they refrain from killing us not out of empathy, but because they know that if they start all-out war, they will lose badly.
      Hence guerilla action.

  15. Alex Cox

    Noam Chomsky has famously refused to accept that non-human animals are conscious.

    Some researchers who disagreed with him named one of their apes Nim Chimpsky.

    1. Starry Gordon

      Yes, a long, long time ago I and some others got into it with Dr. Chomsky on line about non-human intelligence and he asked “So, how many kittens are in this conversation?” This question did not carry the day. He finally got out of the heat by pulling rank — basically, “I’m the great Chomsky and you’re nothing so shut up.” What an ass.

  16. John

    I grew up on a small farm. Can’t say I find the article compelling. In my experience it is the exception for a chicken or a turkey to flap and struggle once both feet are secured and they are head down whether in your had or strung up for slaughter. A number of the restrictive devices are the province of “industrial scale” agriculture. The hog barns I have seen and smelled in North Carolina with their accompanying waste “lagoons” … sans palm trees and white sand beaches … are no way to treat anything living. Ditto for feed lots for cattle. My first experience of one of them was just after crossing the Mississippi into Iowa.

    For what it is worth, we had a firm rule. You did not eat or sell those to whom you gave names and that included cats, dogs, horses, cows, and even a few chickens and turkeys.

  17. Zen

    Fantastic article. Thank you!

    RE: to all who are complaining about academic jargon:
    There’s a very good reason for rethinking the way we conceptualise and categorise our knowledge and experience of the world. Creating new vocabulary, such as “non-human”, and discussing the wide-spread circulation of knowledge (aka. via memes as a form of resistance in systems of social control) is not trivial. It is suppossed to communicate a subversion of existing patterns of values, beliefs and concepts with which we perceive and understand the world. These are highly habitual, a part of the social imaginary, constructed through the systems of power and control. It is in fact very important to create new language and new narratives both to oppose the hegemonic discourse and to come up with constructive alternatives.

    Also: The animal-human divide is closely related to the Cartesian subject-object framework of knowledge, which got exported and imposed upon much of the world through colonialism, and still nowadays perpatuates systems of power and control. Only the subject (only the human; only the male; only the white-male; only a small network of white-males, or perhaps in a different context only a small-network of national elites whatever colour of their skin) has the power to determine the existence and freedom of an object (the animal, the female, the non-white male populations…).

    [sarcasm] What a great logic: weirdly resembles some of the pathologies of the alt-right discourse, eh? We should “man up” and not be “pussies” or discuss “memes.” We have “real” world problems, of lizard overlords destroying the economy, who cares about some orcas… [sarcasm off]

    It is sad that many readers of the article seem apprehensive of the jargon and perceive it as “bullshit;” but I guess it’s often like that with having to put a bit more effort into grasping the utility of the new language.

    Also: John Berger wrote an excellent essay on the topic: Why Look at Animals. “Alienation” and “commodification” were the “lingo” back in the 70s…

  18. Judith

    Two academics thinking about the intelligence of animals:

    Peter Godfrey-Smith a philosopher interested in the evolution of intelligence. One recent book “Other Minds”. He is a diver and has great stories about octopus encounters.

    Lars Chittka “the Mind of a Bee”. Bees are amazing and his experiments are fascinating.

    1. ambrit

      I remember the Jacques Cousteau television program episode “Octopus, Octopus.” After seeing what these tentacled beings can do, I swore never to eat them.
      Arthur C Clarke had a plot element in one of his books where a Hindu political movement was trying to enforce vegetarianism upon the world, from philosophical reasoning. Figure out a replacement protein based amino acid source and perhaps….

  19. iread

    I live on a horse farm as a tenant. Last year I got fairly familiar with the brood mares and their stallion. As I walked the hills I’d speak to them in passing and on occasion out of friendly or even proprietary curiosity various mares presented themselves to my face for a scratch or two before I walked on. I never petted them as they were not my horses, the terrain was rough, I am not as steady on my feet as I used to be, and most of these animals were massive clydesdale warmblood crosses.

    Nevertheless over time I could sense a relationship had developed. The stallion and I ignored each other. I had informed him how handsome he was and left it at that. But one day as I walked down the hill having exchanged calling cards with the mares who considered it formally correct, the stallion raised his head as I passed some distance away. As if to myself, I remarked that I would never approach him, he would have to approach me. Instantly he loomed above me on the slope. Startled, I presented my hand, not my face, as I did now with the mares. He sniffed it. I quickly backed and walked away. Dismissive he bent to graze. He never so much as looked at me again.

    As foaling approached the various mares were taken back to their home pasture and barn to give birth.
    Almost all of them had some infirmity whether age or injury and I had sometimes asked my landlord as to who they were. One in particular, a very large black mare with a massive mane and serious limp from a swollen tendon had begun to spend alot of time on the ground. I had worried she might have an abcess, so when they took her home I was relieved. As the season passed I would remember to ask about so and so and if she had had her foal. One day after some effort at identification my landlord told me her story.

    Yes she had had some kind of foot infection. The vet had treated it to no avail. When it came to having her foal there had been some injury with internal bleeding. Perhaps she had stepped on it. They took it away to treat it. She was distraught but it died. So they brought it back into the stall for her to recognize that it was dead. She sniffed it , lay down beside it, and immediately she died.

    “Don’t tell me that animals….” my landlord began.
    “I know,” I interrupted him, as we turned away from each other with tears in our eyes.

    These are the least of my experiences even with these animals that are not mine. Many of them I can’t
    tell because my language fails and verges on the ridiculous. But I have proof over time of some of the best communicators and no doubt whatsoever that the animals are aware of what is happening to us.

    One argument I remember in particular where my horse wanted to know if the… Humans… knew.
    Back then we thought in terms of “earth changes.” He insisted that the changes he referred to were
    coming through the atmosphere. Only years later I recognize that they were.

  20. ChrisPacific

    We’ve evolved on this point somewhat over time I think. There’s general recognition now that keeping dolphins in captivity is cruel, and the places here that used to do it have closed to the public.

    When I was a kid I had a friend whose parent worked at one of the marine parks that kept animals, so we helped out with care and feeding and the like. They had maybe 4-5 dolphins in a large pool. There were a number of ‘toys’ for them to play with including a bell that they could ring by pulling on a rope. One of the dolphins did nothing but ring the bell constantly, just about 24/7. During the whole week I can’t ever remember a time when she wasn’t doing it, and the sound of the bell was just a constant in the park. Even as a kid, I found this unsettling. It was clear that it wasn’t the behavior of a happy animal in good mental health.

  21. Piotr Berman

    The entire architecture of animal agriculture attests to animals’ unyielding resistance against confinement and death. Cages, corrals, pens and tanks would not exist were it not for animals’ tireless revolt.
    Actually, animal husbandry that was much more efficient than hunting in procuring food was implemented ca. 10,000 years ago, and until industrial revolution, confinement was not practiced. Metals were too expensive to be used in husbandry on a massive scale. As domesticated animals tend to roam close to their “homes” like coops, barns or pigsties, they we allowed to roam with some limitations, like not grazing on the crops that were not meant for them. This is why we eat much more beef than venison. Deer sleep in random spots, plus they spend too much energy running and hopping to gain weight as efficiently as cows or domestic fowl.

    The reasons for tight confinement stem from a discovery that given a particular amount of feed, an animal gains more weight when its movements are restricted. I once read a study documenting that egg laying hens need some percentage of feed more if the cages are not very tight, I do not remember if it was 4% or 10%. Roaming is inefficient for sure, necessitating higher prices for “free range eggs”. And the same applied to the production of milk and meat. So in principle, we could have industrial scale farm producing venison… although undomesticated animals may loose appetite in such condition, a deer not allowed to run, hop or at least trot may die. [I am speculating on that point]

    1. witters

      “Actually, animal husbandry that was much more efficient than hunting in procuring food was implemented ca. 10,000 years ago”:

      James C. Scott forcefully argues the opposite in Against the Grain. Perhaps worth a look.

      1. Piotr Berman

        I am familiar with arguments that hunter gatherers were healthier than early (and even medieval) farmers, but the increase in population attests to more food being produced from a given area. The core of my argument is that “domesticated” animals did not run away from their keepers, and were not confined, even though they were periodically killed.

        OTOH, the issue that “economic efficiency” may be detrimental to our health remains serious.

  22. Piotr Berman

    Non-human and human animals are not totally different. Some videos of mobilization in Ukraine show that resistance that would make a chicken proud. Sadly, equally ineffective.

  23. podcastkid

    Suppose somewhere there were conehead gangs who moved around in these new flying cars. In this particular area they’d land late at night in Safeway parking lots, break in, and activate a wormhole machine into which they’d toss half the store’s food (any security guards would get hit with curari darts). After that it would seem like they’d activate another BIG wormhole into which they disappeared. Then suppose this started happening in other places, and then eventually at many places all over the planet where there were supermarkets. On a regular basis.

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