Chickens chicken out on freedom

Why the Animal Liberation Front tried to liberate 7000 hens - and 150 of them died.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Animal rights are anthropocentric

The animal rights collective really aren’t a very bright lot. On New Year’s Day, some of their numbers stormed a Dorset barn seeking to liberate 7000 hens from brutal oppression. The 7000 free-range birds panicked at the noise and the sight of torches, causing a stampede that lead to the unnecessary death of 150 birds. Their bumbling liberators left behind the symbol of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) daubed on the barn walls, together with the message: ‘no excuse for animal abuse.’

The ALF is no stranger to such strategic cock-ups. It targeted the same farm 15 years ago, setting scores of hens free, which were promptly torn to pieces and gobbled up by foxes. Five years ago, they set loose 3000 mink in the Hampshire countryside, which subsequently went on to attack cats and dogs and even a kestrel. Many of the mink consequently met their doom at the hands of farmers’ shotguns.

These incidents shouldn’t surprise us. They occur because the animal rights movement seems unable to tell the difference between rational, sentient beings (our species) and the rest. They appear to believe that we share the same hopes and concerns, that animals, like us, could not contend living as slaves.

This remains the perpetual paradox of the animal rights movement: it is anthropocentric. It is a human-led endeavour, which employs the language of the Enlightenment (‘rights’), and projects our human sentiments on the non-human world (the quest for ‘liberation’ against ‘oppression’).

So Peter Singer, the guru of the movement, supports a proposal to give great apes their own country – an area of habitat populated by higher apes which would fall under UN protection. This seems doubly anthropocentric, ascribing to animals not only the capacity seemingly to uphold rights, but also a belief in the nation state.

Chimps and chicks are never going to get wise to concepts of rights, liberty, nationalism, post-structuralism or the off-side trap. Try to liberate some chickens, and they will not be seen riding motorcycles over barbed-wire fences, sneaking round cities with bogus passports and approaching other incognito fowl on street corners, muttering codewords. No, what happens is that they all go ‘cluck cluck’ and then trample each other to death.

Next week: the ALF liberate chained-up shopping trolleys from a Tesco car park in Maidenhead.

  • Life imitates art

It seems undeniable that we are influenced, malignly or not, by what music we listen to or what films we watch. Only a deaf, dumb and blind kid wouldn’t be.

I remember my flatmates in student years watching Goodfellas for the first time. The next day, two of them went into town to purchase an air pistol, and proceeded to spend the next two months going around the house shooting lightbulbs still in their sockets, and milk bottles perched on windowsills.

Similarly, I once heard a story on Radio Five that in the mid-1970s, police detectives in London were rather soberly dressed, conservative types. They didn’t dress in beige and go around telling everyone to ‘shut it you slaaaag’. Then The Sweeney appeared, and only after the show became popular did coppers start turning up for work with kipper ties and flares, and saying ‘guv’ a lot.

On a more serious note, recall that Stanley Kubrick originally withdrew Clockwork Orange because of a number of killings it is said to have inspired (with real-life criminals dressed like on-screen ones). One of the most brutal ‘copy-cat killings’ in recent years occurred in Merseyside in November 1999, when a teenager was stripped and tortured. An attempt to cut off his ear was made while the murderer sung ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ – in imitation of a scene from Reservoir Dogs.

At the same time, you get the feeling at the moment that we all must declare which side we are on, whether we believe that ‘Gangsta rap’ reflects or affects society. Surely, it does both.

Consider: some time in the mid-1980s, youths in Britain started stealing signs from Volkswagen and Mercedes cars. It was a habit imported by famous rappers, who may very well have been reflecting the fact that this habit was widely practised on the streets of Detroit or Los Angeles, yet it was a habit previously alien to Brits. Soon, cars over here were seen driving around with large holes on their front radiators.

  • Rapping in the good old days

It is sad that So Solid Crew are getting so much blame for Britain’s burgeoning ‘gun culture’. We should at least congratulate So Solid Crew for one thing: for helping to bring real-time rapping back in fashion.

Just consider their most famous lines: ‘I got 21 seconds to go, I got 21 seconds to go, so if you wanna let me know when I’m in the studio, I got 21 seconds before I gotta go.’ This clearly scans and rhymes. Similarly, back in the late-1980s, rappers such as Doug-E Fresh, Kool Mo Dee and Run DMC proved so engaging because they rapped in time.

But ever since Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy-Dog, it has become the convention to rap ‘off-beat’, which entails largely mumbling incoherently over the bass line, with no reference to it. Indeed, Eminem’s lyrics seem to bear no relation to the rhythm whatsoever. Consider: ‘Hi kids! Do you like violence? (Yeah yeah yeah!) / Wanna see me stick Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids? (Uh-huh!) / Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did? (Yeah yeah!) Try kid and get fucked up worse that my life is? (Huh?)’

Okay, so his work can be stirring, but it’s hardly the kind off stuff you can sing along to while shaving.

At least give So Solid Crew some plaudits for taking us back to the old skool.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

Read on:

spiked-issue: On animals

Gangsta rap crap, by Jennie Bristow

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Topics Politics


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