An Essay by David Cantor
Like millions of other people throughout the world, I greatly admire the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and think it is correct to honor his memory with a national holiday. But a couple of days of rhetoric and remembrance and one of service obscure rather than address the kinds of problems King was willing to give his life to solve. This is a disaster for nonhuman animals as well as for human beings.
It is ironic -- or was it a stroke of public-relations genius? -- that President Ronald Reagan advocated for establishing the King holiday? Reagan campaigned for president by negatively stigmatizing a non-existent class of "welfare mothers" as code for welcoming white supremacy -- all of that as cover for promoting big-business interests over the public interest. "I believe in an America where a man can still get rich!" he declared. He certainly helped make an America where a small number accumulate enormous wealth yet live impoverished lives because values other than personal wealth suffer.
Big business as the method of converting Earth's wealth to human wealth keeps people eating from nonhuman animals whose misery they never see; driving, far more than necessary, automobiles that kill in the U.S. alone an average 1 million reptiles, birds and mammals per day and humans numbering as many as the 9/11 attacks each month; funding an outsized and wasteful military that by cover of night dumps chlorinated hydrocarbons unlawfully and hides the fact for years while humans and nonhumans die agonizing deaths; funding over 100 colleges of agriculture that mainly serve the meat and feed-crop industries knowing this is inhumane and causes chronic disease, high medical & insurance costs, global warming, ocean dead zones, and other catastrophes.
Today, as we hear the mass media and their anointed celebrity politicians give lip service to King's vision, about 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line, another 57 million barely above it, subject to official poverty with one more home-repair scam, one more transportation cost hike, one more missed day of work due to illness in the family. Twenty-three times the number of Americans who existed when the Constitution was ratified live at or near the official poverty line. Numbering 75 times the original population, a total 300 million Americans ingest some 10 billion nonhuman animals each year, to the detriment of all. Most people in desperate straits lack the education, time, or both, to consider what foods will be best for themselves, their families, and Earth's other beings, what light bulbs will reduce their electric bills and mercury in nonhuman animals' tissues from coal-burning power plants, or how the mass media exclude meaningful political discourse. Nor are most people with the education and the time making the effort. The more advantaged, instead, keep leading the rest in the wrong direction.
It is unlikely King would have been able to get much media attention were he with us today. Advertisers aren't comfortable with substance anymore. They learned their lesson in the 1960s. That's why TV has never accurately and truthfully explained animal rights in three decades of using the term. But in his newsletter, King would probably advise readers not to watch television except to see what the enemy is doing, not to grant social status to private property, to furs covering human bodies, or to meat filling human stomachs, to end breeding, ownership, and use of nonhuman animals, to end our baby fetish but ensure that those who are born learn how to meet their spiritual needs so they don't resort to material addictions, to live on less and less land until virtually everyone can meet their needs on foot and bicycle, giving the other beings a chance at restoring natural ecosystems as they created them over hundreds of millions of years the first time.
He would long ago have come to understand that invidious distinctions among species preceded, gave rise to, and continue to drive those among humans, however much more TV coverage invidious distinctions among humans may get. Most of all, having gotten on in years and having seen the best laid plans and the most popular causes laid waste by the enormity and momentum of big business, I think he would have said something like, It isn't enough to keep the dream alive and expect others to make it come of us must learn reality every day from books and conversation, observe that current political reality is not acceptable, and direct our lives toward creating a new one.
In addition to many other volumes -- and maybe including some of his own writings -- I think he would have recommended (in no particular order)
Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream by Bob Herbert,
Democracy Matters by Cornel West,
Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It by Thomas de Zengotita,
Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World by Richard Heinberg,
Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture by Jeremy Rifkin,
The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy by William Greider,
Plant Roots: 101 Reasons Why the Human Diet Is Rooted Exclusively in Plants by Rex Bowlby,
The Population Explosion by Paul Ehrlich, New World, New Mind by Robert Ornstein & Paul Ehrlich,
Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror by Lee Hall,
Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres,
University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education by Jennifer Washburn,
The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, Campus, Inc.: Corporate Power in the Ivory Tower edited by Geoffry D. White,
The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff,
Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post & Jill Neimark,
The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski, Speciesism by Joan Dunayer,
Poisoned Nation: Pollution, Greed, and the Rise of Deadly Epidemics by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel,
Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson,
America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy by Gar Alperovitz,
The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? by Joel Kovel,
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Geoffrey Moussaieff Masson,
Introduction to Animal Rights by Gary Francione,
The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler,
The Arrogance of Humanism by David Ehrenfeld,
The Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works by Paul H. Weaver,
Democracy for the Few and Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media by Michael Parenti,
The American Soul by Jacob Needleman,
A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting,
Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil by Daniel J. Hillel, Educating for Character by Thomas Lickona,
Topsoil and Civilization by Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale,
The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry,
Broken Heartland: The Rise of America's Rural Ghetto by Osha Gray Davidson, Inventing Human Rights by Lynn Hunt,
Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman,
Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson,
Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution by Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman,
Seed to Civilization: The Story of Food by Charles B. Heiser, Jr.,
Resource Wars by Michael T. Klare, The Food Revolution by John Robbins,
The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted by T. Colin Campbell,
Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher,
Animal Rights / Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation by David Nibert,
Leasing the Ivory Tower: The Corporate Takeover of Academia by Lawrence C. Soley,
The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra,
Give Me Liberty: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century by Gerry Spence �.
David Cantor is the founding director of Responsible
Policies for Animals, Inc. � www.RPAforAll.org