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In global civilization, where the various human uses of nonhuman animals results in immense animal oppression, concerned activists are looking for a way to deal.  The abolitionist animal liberation agenda seeks to end all forms of animal use.  The abolitionist approach also states that all animal use is driven by the conceptualization of animals as property.  In other words, the commodification of animals leads to animal use, i.e. animal exploitation.

The words “use”, “utility”, and “exploitation” share one thing in common:  they are all nouns to describe the action of use.  More specifically, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “exploitation” refers to the act of “making productive use of” or “making use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.”  When we argue for the end of animal exploitation, do we mean the end of “making productive use of animals” or “making use of animals meanly and unfairly for our own advantage”?  The latter has certainly been the goal for animal welfare groups such as ASPCA, where the mission is “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.”  But what about abolitionist animal rights?  Since the abolitionist agenda distinguishes itself from welfare reform, we can assume that the abolition of animal exploitation would extend beyond how animals are used and lean against exploitation as the general principle of use.

Why do we detest animal exploitation so much?  The definition of exploitation as simply “productive use” doesn’t tell us much about the moral implications.  We can only infer deeper meaning from the phonetic and historical interpretations.  Exploitation sounds harsh–the musicality is like taking a violent stab into flesh with a sharp knife.  In addition, civilized humans in history have a track record for engaging in one-sided exploitation through justification of anthropocentric religions and philosophies.  However, none of this makes exploitation an inherently evil phenomenon.  We anti-oppression activists are so used to the one-sided, expansive, selfish bullshit of our culture that we fail to see the concept of use beyond the civilized dystopia.

Let’s try for a moment to re-evaluate “use” and “exploitation.”  From an ecofeminist and indigenous perspective, use of another living being is not inherently bad; in fact, it’s necessary for survival.  The use becomes a major problem when it’s one-sided.  That is, living beings in the ecosystem are made into resources in order to serve one species, and members of that species do not give back in response to what they have received.  Instead, those members behave in the world as if everyone else on the planet owes them a debt that can never be paid, and so the members take advantage of those who give and take more and more, continuing to push the limits of those they oppress for as long as they can.  What’s missing in this scenario is reciprocity, which is also missing in our conceptualization of exploitation.  If our imperial culture actually engaged in ecological reciprocity, the word exploitation would probably never exist.  The act of “use” wouldn’t be a problem because everyone would be used, and the use would simply be an act of life, a way of participating in the biosphere.  Alas, as it stands, we do not.  Our global civilization exploits many and holds no values for giving back.  But this can change, and the first places to start in the animal liberation movement would be in philosophical developments and activism.

So, I ask the question again: Do animal liberation proponents really want to abolish all forms of animal use, thereby disregarding our interdependence in the biosphere and severing any possibility for us to give unto other animals and to be open to our use in return? This animal liberation proponent certainly doesn’t.