In the wake of the BP oil spill comes some of the most shocking footage yet of what goes on inside Department of Agriculture-approved dairy farms, thanks to Mercy for Animals and the undercover footage they took at Conklin Farm in Ohio. I say “shocking” because most of us haven’t seen these things with our own eyes; yet what I’d like to explore here is the idea that these actions aren’t shocking at all in the context of a society founded upon (and steeped in) the Dangerous Duo of Pastoralism and Patriarchy.
Pastoralism is the 10,000-year-old ideology, still very much alive and well today, that has brainwashed most humans into believing that we have the right to own and exploit other animals for food, profit, and anything else we damn well feel like. As owned “objects,” animals are our property; and we are all raised to believe we can do whatever we want with our own property. Pretty logical.
In this context, what Gary Conklin did (and Billy Joe Gregg, and the other workers there) makes perfect sense. Their actions were simply a more extreme version of the kinds of things animal “farmers” do every minute of every day on every “farm” in the world. They went too far according to the “standards” of “right thinking” dairy farmers –that was their mistake. But that doesn’t make any of them a freak, or insane, or anything else other than the logical extension of pastoralism.
Interestingly, it was pastoralism that paved the path to patriarchy, since it worked so well as a model of oppression, and that’s where the title of this blog comes in.
In 1989, 14 female engineering students were murdered in pre-meditated fashion at École Polytechnique (15 were injured). The murderer felt justified in his actions because he believed that feminists had ruined his life by fighting for the rights of women to attend school there; his spot in the engineering program, you see, had been occupied by a woman.
At the time my main political focus was upon the ravaging effects of patriarchy. While the world denounced the actions of a crazy person, my friends and I were very clear that this man wasn’t anywhere near crazy; he was simply taking patriarchy to its logical conclusion. The mistake he made was the same one Gary Conklin et al made: he took it too far and he got caught. Patriarchy must punish the most extreme public expressions of its violent nature so as to obscure the less extreme expressions taking place everywhere, at every moment, all around us.
Pastoralism employs the same tactics. If we punish the most egregious forms of animal abuse, then we won’t notice the twelve trillion other examples of it going on every second of every day all over the world. ALL OVER THE WORLD, in every nook and cranny of this pastoralist, patriarchal world.
Predictably, we have lots of calls to punish Gary Conklin and crew (especially Billy Joe since so far he’s the star of the undercover footage) so we can all feel like we’ve done something. And we will punish them, because we as a pastoralist world must do so in order to maintain our status quo.
But let’s not worry too much about these guys. In the end, we can’t really do too much damage to them. What they did isn’t a felony because those cows belong to Conklin Dairy (and not to themselves).
The same legal system that will slap a fine (and a bit of time) on these humans is the same one that inspected and approved the place THREE TIMES before Mercy for Animals’ undercover footage revealed to the outside world what was going on in there. It’s the same legal system that was created by men steeped in the traditions of pastoralism and patriarchy: land-owners, animal-owners, women-owners, slave-owners. Any woman who’s been raped can tell you all about the limitations of the legal system. If cows could speak as we do, they would tell you the same story a thousand times stronger.
There is an extraordinary danger in accepting that this case is an isolated one, the actions of a group of freak sadist animal abusers. It’s the same danger that sees little girls as threatened by strangers with candy and not their own fathers.
AR activists — those of you who have the spotlight — please do not lose this opportunity to point out that Gary Conklin et al are no different than all the rest of them. Let’s show pastoralism in all its glory. Let’s also remember that this movement needs the actions of every single one of us — those who fight within the confines of the law and those who have the courage and ability to resist the laws that were designed specifically to protect property owners like Gary Conklin in the first place.