pattrice jones, The Oxen at the Intersection
pattrice jones is an ecofeminist writer, scholar, and activist who, along with Miriam Jones, cofounded VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ-run farmed animal sanctuary that operates within an understanding of the intersection of oppressions. She is the author of Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies (Lantern, 2007), and has contributed chapters to Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth (Bloomsbury, 2014); Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism (McFarland, 2013); Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2011); Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society (Lantern, 2010); Contemporary Anarchist Studies (Routledge, 2009); Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press, 2006); and Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern, 2004). Her portion of the proceeds of the sale of The Oxen at the Intersection will go to VINE. pattrice is pictured here with Luna.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, it’s time for It’s All About Food and I’m Caryn Hartglass. It’s August 12, 2014. It’s a very nice day here in New York City with a cool breeze. I know I said this every week this summer but it has been the most incredible summer here where I live in New York. It has never gotten brutally hot and I’m really liking it. I wanted to let you know Responsible Eating and Living, my non-profit, is hosting a free one-hour educational seminar on water, water safety, facts about water, purification and the science behind the most effective ways of purifying water. You know I am passionate about clean, healthy water. If you have any questions or concerns, now is the time you can sign up and participate in this free online event. I’m really excited about this, it’s the first time I’m going to be doing something like this. I’m partnering with Aquanui, the people that make my favorite distiller which is made in the United States. It’s August 20, 2014 and if you are interested, go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com, go over to the right side and scroll down to where it says “Water Made Wonderful” and you can reserve your spot. And just above that is the link to our brand new apps. Have you downloaded your app yet, your REAL app? I’m so excited about those. Alright, that’s all I have to tell you that’s new. So let’s get started with today’s program and I’m going to bring on my first guest, Pattrice Jones. She’s an eco-feminist, writer, scholar and activist who, along with Miriam Jones, co-founded VINE Sanctuary, an LGBTQ run farmed-animal sanctuary that operates with an understanding of the intersection of oppressions. She’s the author of Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies, a wonderful book by a real favorite publisher, Lantern Books. We are going to be talking about a new book that she has authored, The Oxen at the Intersection, another Lantern Book. Pattrice, how are you?
Pattrice Jones: I’m doing very well Caryn. It’s so great to hear your voice again.
Caryn Hartglass: It is good to hear your voice and I miss you very much. It’s been way too long and I don’t know why I haven’t seen you in like what?
Pattrice Jones: Ten years.
Caryn Hartglass: Ten years! That’s incredible. Well you made a tremendous impression on me the few times I’ve seen you in person so it stays with me.
Pattrice Jones: Ditto.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright so let’s get to work here and talk about this book. Now I remember just vaguely back in 2012, I didn’t know much about the story that you talk about in this book, and I grabbed some information and read some stuff online. But this story is fascinating, frustrating, stupid and smart. It hit all my emotional buttons and I am continuingly questioning the human species and our motives. You hit on all of them. Do you want to talk just briefly? A little introduction to get people interested in The Oxen at the Intersection.
Pattrice Jones: Well the oxen in question were two cows called Bill and Lou who had been living at a college called Green Mountain College here in Vermont. They had been used as farm equipment, yolked together by a wooden yolk and used to plow and sometimes to generate electricity. They were unofficial mascots of the school and the town of Poultney, Vermont until one day, one of them, Lou, stepped in a gopher hole and sustained the equivalent of a sprained ankle. Not a life threatening injury but turned out to be one that meant he could no longer pull a plow. Since oxen work in teams, that meant that he and Bill could no longer work for the school so the school decided to kill and eat their mascots as a symbol of sustainability. This, not surprisingly, engendered a good bit of local controversy among town’s people who had come to care for these animals. Alumni of the school who remembered them fondly, at the request of a local organization, VINE Sanctuary stepped in to offer refuge to the oxen who the school said they were killing because they couldn’t afford to feed them if they weren’t working. We said that was great, we’re happy to offer you a retirement home for the oxen, free of charge to the college in the same way that we offer refuge to other animals when they are in circumstances where people are no longer able to feed them. Our offer was rudely refused. The question very quickly went viral due to social media and there became a sort of a worldwide quest in the words of many people “Save Bill and Lou.” Tens of thousands of people worldwide weighed in on the question. The college dug in its heels, sending out a contradictory, confusing and a stream of other reasons why they had to kill these two oxen. In the end, the local slaughter house refused to kill them, which left them wanting to kill but not able to do it. They ended up splitting the difference; killing one of them and calling it euthanasia and not allowing either of them to go to a sanctuary. And my book is – should I go on?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, please go on!
Pattrice Jones: My book, The Oxen at the Intersection – the whole thing was a calamity. Social change and activism precedes by means of trial and error. If we want to make real change, we have to be willing to risk calamity but we also have to have the discipline to look back and analyze our strategies and our tactics to see what went right and what went wrong. This new book of mine, The Oxen at the Intersection, is kind of a case study in calamity that tries to ask the question: how is that tens of thousands of people were unable to save the lives of two oxen who everybody agreed had never done anyone any harm? The first half of the book tells the story for those who were not in on it as it was happening. It tells the storey from our perspective here at the sanctuary as we tried to coordinate a campaign that soon slipped the boundaries of our ability to anyway control what was happening. Then the second half of the book, which to me is the real heart of the book, analyzes what happened from several different perspectives with the aim of learning something that might help us in future campaigns. Not just animal protection campaigns but future campaigns and activism, regardless of the type of activism.
Caryn Hartglass: So the first half, which is the story, to me, was almost like a thriller. It reminded me of some whistle-blower movies. I could see it as a movie but the problem is, unlike most of the whistle-blower movies that we’ve seen that have a happy ending, this did not have a happy ending.
Pattrice Jones: Right, it did not.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just every page, the people at Green Mountain College – isn’t that a lovely sounding name? Doesn’t that make you bring up, well maybe not for you anymore, but the images that you get are fresh air, natural environment and all good things. They had so many opportunities and they just kept making the wrong decisions.
Pattrice Jones: Right, hard decisions, decisions that didn’t serve anyone really and decisions that I’m not sure everybody – I wonder at the degree to which now there may be some regret about decisions that were made in the heat in the moment.
Caryn Hartglass: I guess the one thing that surprised me above all the opportunities that these people had to let these animals live because you listed so many. One person or company was going to provide vegan food for the university and somebody was going to make a donation. The fact that they turned down economic related opportunities just blew my mind because I thought everybody answers to money.
Pattrice Jones: Right, but it shouldn’t have blown your mind. And already, in just you talking about your own reactions to two of the aspects of this case, the images that come to your mind when you think of Green Mountain College and the failure of the college administrators to act in what would be called an economically rational way are actually big parts of my analysis in the second half. The three seconds in the second half concern the power of place, what I call dangerous intersections, meaning linkages among different forms of oppression and animal psychology, by which I mean the psychology of human animals.
Caryn Hartglass: I think the second section is so important. There have been a number of books that have come out on how to be an animal advocate. This is the best thing I’ve read so far because you’re really working with hindsight, 20/20. It makes us understand the importance of all the things you are discussing from the story.
Pattrice Jones: Good.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. I just wanted to point out just a few. Can you just give a better, more detailed description of these dangerous intersections that you talk about?
Pattrice Jones: Absolutely and I also want to talk about the power and place in animal psychology. One thing I am hoping that people will read the book obviously or I wouldn’t have written it. But I’m hoping that in addition to whatever we learn from looking at this particular case, I’m hoping that the book itself will serve into kind of model about how to look at the problems we are trying to solve in activism. I think we need to think of the problems we are trying to solve as situations, complex intersections of material, social and psychological circumstances that need to be analyzed. This book, I hope, provides a kind of a model about how you can look at a situation from lots of different angles to see where there might be opportunities for intervention. That’s a very different way of doing activism than just seeing a problem and reaching for your one-size-fits-all tactic, whether it be petitioning, pamphleting or protests, whatever the case may be. We need to get away from the knee-jerk reaching for particular favorite tactics and instead get good at analyzing situations in order to discover avenues for intervention where we can actually use, rather than work against, the energies that are inherent in the situation. Certainly we have to pay attention to the places that things happen. Everything that is done to animals is done by people, we’ll get to people in a second, in particular places. Places that are marked by their history, places that are shaped by material circumstances and the physiology of the ecosystem. But also by economic circumstances in a way that this particular place is hooked into national and global systems such as governments and economies. All of these things may come into play in a particular situation. In our particular situation, the mythical image of Vermont as this green paradise which turns out to be deeply rooted in Vermont history, an implicitly white idea, helps to explain why these college administrators in particular, but also many students, seem to feel as a matter of existential necessity that they be allowed to kill these animals. In fact, their very sense of identity was deeply rooted in some mythological ideas about old-school farming and the like. By not recognizing the degree to which their identities are all bound up with this old-school way of using oxen which they portrayed as the natural true Vermont way of doing things when in fact actually that’s the way the European immigrants to Vermont did things, destroying the environment in the process. All of that turned out to be relevant and by not taking that into account adequately, that’s one of the many ways we didn’t do all that we could have done to save those two oxen.
Caryn Hartglass: You called that innocent at one point where if people had their understanding of the way things were, which were wrong. When you don’t know something, you don’t understand something and you start to learn that everything you believed was wrong. Many of us have a natural knee-jerk reaction to not want to believe that information because it just blows away our foundation.
Pattrice Jones: Innocence is a really important factor in the psychology of people in the United States, particularly white people in the United States. It’s essential to believe oneself to be innocent in some sort of existential way. People are thought of as either good people or bad people, rather than thinking about good or bad acts and thinking of people as capable of both good and bad acts. Innocence depends on keeping yourself innocent of and unaware of the violence upon which your privilege rests. Yes, that was one of the many psychological factors rooted in a particular place that very strongly came into play there. I mentioned just now that innocence is particularly a part of white privilege and it turns out that racism was one of many intersecting oppressions that factored into what seemed to be just a conversation among mostly white people about two animals. In fact, whenever white people are talking among themselves, and especially when some of them are pretending to be the true carriers of the tradition of the land, race is always in there as an unspoken and particularly virulent variable. That was certainly true in this instance.
Caryn Hartglass: I suppose those are the people who used to live there and what they were eating and what their lifestyles were all about before we came and blew them all away.
Pattrice Jones: And also ways of thinking about non-human animals and growing food etc. Ableism was a big issue here. Ableism is the term that we use of course for discrimination against prejudice and against people with disabilities. Ableism assumes that if you have a particular capability, the having of particular capabilities, it makes you morally worthwhile. Not having particular capabilities makes you liable to be locked up, used and sterilized etc. Ableism came into play in several different places here from the very first idea that these were campus workers, that’s what they had been called these two oxen. But when they became unable to work, then they were no longer worthy of care. That was a very disturbing element from many of the people who spoke up for Bill and Lou were not necessarily supporters of animal rights but they were appalled by that particular idea. But there’s also this implicit ableism built into speciesism where the presumption is that people are inherently more morally worthwhile because we have particular capabilities that non-human animals don’t have. Of course we’ve learned over the years that most of the things we claim we can do and claim that non-human animals can’t do, in fact many other non-human animals can do quite well. But the real problem is the form of the argument. The form of the argument is that if you have certain capabilities, this is what gives you rights. This is what gives you moral worth and moral standing. This is what means that we have to care about you. We have to care you if you have rationality and we don’t have to care about you if you don’t. That’s a very troubling way to think. It’s the way that many people think about non-human animals and it’s deeply linked to speciesism. Of course we also saw a good part of sexism on both sides of the controversy during this one. All of that is rooted in a way of thinking about the world that some eco-feminist scholars call the logic of domination, the idea of mind over matter, reason over emotion, male over female, human over animal and culture over nature.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you discuss this by using the word adult husbandry.
Pattrice Jones: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: That just sums it all up. It was chilling when I read it, just wow.
Pattrice Jones: Yes. At Green Mountain College they actually did use that old-school term, animal husbandry. This is something that I think a lot of animal activists who really have not begun to really think about anywhere near as carefully and clearly as we need to think about all uses of non-human animals by humans involved, hands-on control of reproduction. It is deeply linked to sexism and to ignore this is to ignore an essential component of the problem that you are trying to solve. Trying to solve that problem, while not looking at the ways that sex and gender play into our own ways of interacting with each other, just compounds the problem. But when I was talking about the logic of domination, I was also sort of leading into what you said earlier when you said you were really surprised that the administrators at Green Mountain College had not behaved in an economically rational way. That sort of brings me to the third set of things that I talk about in my book The Oxen at the Intersection which is that this whole campaign to save Bill and Lou preceded for the most part as though Bill and Lou were the only animals in question. In fact, we’re animals too. Like every other kind of animal, we have our own ethology and our own psychology. Human psychology is a lot more complicated. We are not in fact economically rational thinking robots.
Caryn Hartglass: No we’re not.
Pattrice Jones: We like to think we are but the only reason we like to think we are is that whole logic of domination that speciesism is built into. So we had this really interesting situation and we see it a lot in animal activism where animal activists who absolutely oppose speciesism are still without really being aware of that they’re doing so, operating within this logic of domination where it’s assumed that humans are rational, where it’s assumed that rationality is superior to emotion and separate from emotion. All of these are actually really odd ideas that are not in any way born out by what we know about how people actually do act. What we know about how people actually do act is the tiny – what you think of as you. Your mind, your conscious and awareness is just a really tiny sliver of the work that your brain is doing all the time. The vast majority of what your brain is doing, in terms of thinking, is not available to you consciously. A lot of times your brain is making decisions and then you’re coming up with some story after the fact to explain.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so we have some technical difficulties here and Pattrice, whenever you are back, let me know. I just want to say I really enjoyed reading this book, it’s just packed with so many things that will challenge your mind and even if you thought you had it all figured out, I’m sure there are things in here that are going to, like I said, challenge you. Pattrice, are you back yet? Oh gosh, how disappointed am I. I’m going to have to call her back on another show I think to talk more about this. I wanted to say that I think this might just be my real favorite for 2014, that’s how good a book it is. This microcosm, this simple storey touches on so many important points. What is discussed in the book is in ways you would not naturally see: racism, homophobism, sexism, speciesism and how they’re all connected and how they all play into this storey in not-obvious ways.
Oh I am just so disappointed that she’s not with us, aren’t you? That was just fascinating. Now one of the things that I wanted to talk about to Pattrice was something called polarization. She sighted some studies that have been done where people who believe in a certain philosophy, let’s say conservatives and liberals. So the conservatives will listen to their conservative podcasts and the liberals will listen to their liberal podcasts. They will associate with people that believe and support their particular philosophy to the point where they become more so in that philosophy. That was kind of scary to me but apparently it’s very true. She also talks about something called groupthink which is that sheep syndrome where we all start to follow one another. We don’t even realize some of the things we are agreeing to or accepting or we’re acting in certain ways without really thinking about what it is that we’re doing. Often times it can be very dangerous. One of the things with regard to polarization where one group is thinking one thing and another group is thinking another, and they are becoming more so in their thoughts, is that we lose the ability to seek common ground. This is where I’m going these days. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but the last two shows ended will be on this show. I have a segment that I am calling to myself Preaching To The Fire, where I have someone on the program who does not agree with my view of a certain issue and we talk about it. I think this is so important. We did this with the documentary, The Lone Vegan: Preaching To The Fire. Have you seen it yet? If you haven’t, please go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and watch it. It’s only seventy minutes and it’s another example of talking to another polarized group, a group that strongly believes in certain issues and becomes more so in their believe because they are surrounded by people and listening to people that support their believe. But if we are going to move forward, we all need to be communicating, we all need to be talking to each other and we need to find some common ground. We need to find the areas that we agree on and focus on those and move forward, and then perhaps in that way we can learn from each other. This story, The Oxen at the Intersection, you must read it. It’s just such a classic example of humanity, ego and what we’ll do and the decisions we will make that may not be for the best. Alright well I guess we’re not going to get Pattrice. I’m very sad about that but we’ll have to have her back on to talk more about this book, okay? In the meanwhile, you get the book and read it, and let me know what you think about it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Right, now let’s take a break and I will be back with Cherylyn Harley LeBon and we’re going to be talking about salt.
Transcribed by Stefan Pavlovic, 11/12/14