Sunday, 1 August 2010

Urban fox hunting, class, and a militant response to animal cruelty

Although nowhere near as fervent as the initial furore over the "fox attack twins," the media's demonisation of foxes continues unabated. And we are beginning to see the consequences.

Some of the stories that have come out about this have been truly ridiculous.

For example, one can only wonder why the woman who told the Daily Mail of "horror at being bitten by fox on two separate nights" didn't think to keep her windows closed after the first instance.

I do feel for the family whose pet dog was killed by an urban fox. However, as the owner of two cats and a dog, if a fox had previously been in my garden long enough for me to grab a camera and take pictures, I'd have made a point of deterring from coming back.

I'd also have deliberately kept my dog away from it. I certainly wouldn't have let it chase after the thing and end up "two roads away." That's active carelessness.

The latest round of nonsense follows a teenage girl being bitten whilst she camped with friends in her back garden. Or, as the Mirror would have it, "Camping girls attacked by a crazed fox." The paper tells us that the "crazed," "snarling," "bloodthirsty" animal "ripp[ed] a foot-long hole in the canvas" before "sinking its teeth into her left foot."

All of which sounds terrifying, except that despite the apparent foot-long hole in the tent, post-attack the fox couldn't get back in. "I could see its claws running down the tent door as it tried to get back in," schoolgirl Bethany Blackburn is quoted as saying.

Not only that, but it was only then that they decided to use their mobiles to call into the house. Before that, according to the account in the Daily Mail, "before it struck it had spent more than two hours clawing at the sides of the tent." However, the girls say this as "a bit of fun" and, in the tradition of badly-written pulp horror, "their amusement turned to terror" when the creature "lashed out."

Such hysterical exaggeration, more expected of the 13 year old girls than of the adult "journalists" writing about them, is nothing new. Foxes are not the first group to fall victim to media sensationalism.

But it appears that the mania over this has inspired complete lunatics to take matters into their own hands. A new blog, Urban Fox Hunters, has sprung up hoping to "co-ordinate" the efforts of this "collective" in "keeping our streets safer"[sic].

That they view gangs who catch foxes for illegal fights with pitbulls as "other people getting stuck in as well" says all that need be said of the mindset of the twats behind this. You cannot seriously claim to be all about "humanely exterminating pests that are attacking kids" when your first blogspost includes the phrase "note to self, NO BEER BEFORE HUNTING!"

At the same time as this is going on, "cubbing season" has reared its ugly head once again.

In the spring, vixens gave birth to new litters of fox cubs. These little cubs have been growing up in relative safety, learning how to survive in the wild, but now their lives are in terrible danger. Even though it’s illegal, some extremist hunters will be secretly hunting them.

Cub hunting is an activity which traditionally starts in August and continues until mid-October. Its primary purpose is to train young foxhounds to kill foxes and give them a taste for blood. This is because the hounds are not fox killers by nature and for hunts that are still hunting foxes illegally despite the ban, it is important that the hounds are trained to know which animals they are expected to chase and kill. The pack is usually taken at first light or in the evening to a small wood or ‘covert’ where a family of foxes are known to live. The hunt supporters surround the covert and any cubs that attempt to escape are driven back towards the hounds to be savaged. If any cubs remain in their earths they may be dug out and given to the hounds.

What follows are some of the most horrific acts of cruelty to animals. Cubs scatter in terror and panic, absolutely petrified as they meet their often agonising, prolonged deaths. They are sometimes literally ripped to pieces, with desperate vixens unable to save them from their fates.

The hunters who carry out these kinds of activities are nothing more than bullies who get pleasure out of seeing defenceless cubs die in immense pain and agony and we don’t believe they should be allowed to get away with this. 
Quite. If you wish to support the League with a donation, you can do so here.

What I think is obvious, however, is that eradicating such practices completely will require more than just catching out certain individuals or groups. There needs to be a complete change in the mentality which drives this kind of obscene cruelty.

Firstly, the deliberate hysteria and fear-mongering of the mainstream media needs to be seriously challenged.

On any number of topics - organised workers, health and safety, immigration, crime, etc - it is using misinformation and sensationalism to drive a reactionary agenda. It turns the working class against our own interests, generates out-group hostility which divides us as a class, and ensures that mass action or self-organisation can only materialise in the form of a derranged mob mentality.

We need to address this, both within our own communities and nationally. A concerted effort to produce alternative media for mass - rather than activist - consumption would challenge the hegemony of the mainstream media and allow more people to see beyond the propaganda model.

Secondly, we need to confront the overt classism in the reporting of animal rights issues.

The gangs who set their pitbulls on foxes, or cats, are thugs, plain and simple. There is no justification for training a dog to have a lust for blood, or getting pleasure from it tearing other creatures apart.

So why are the people who do this only called "sick thugs," and their actions "horrific," when they live on council estates and wear tracksuits? Why is doing the same thing acceptable on horseback or when you live in the countryside? Why is it then simply described as "the hunt," without epithets such as "sick" and collective nouns such as "gangs?"

Just nine hunts have been prosecuted since the hunting ban, with only three of those ending in conviction. By contrast, prosecutions and convictions for dog fighting and related cruelties are commonplace.

As long as this is treated as a class issue - i.e. just another disgraceful act from the "yobs" at the bottom of the societal scrapheap - we forget that animal cruelty is wrong. Whatever guise it takes, and whatever the economic background of the perpetrator.

For dealing with the practice of animal cruelty, we have direct action.

To many this is seen as violence and terrorism. But, as I explained in Animals in anarchy, this is not the case;
Obviously, there needs to be pressure by protesters if anything is to change, and a push towards environmentally sustainable production methods that do not harm animals. But does this justify what the authorities call “terrorism” and “animal rights extremism?”

If ecoterrorism means harming individuals, such as research scientists or factory farmers, then the answer is unequivocally no. Bringing harm against others, without the justification of self-defence, is not acceptable. The most notorious animal liberation group – the Animal Liberation Front – agree with me on this front. They stipulate that “anyone who carries out direct action according to ALF guidelines is a member of the ALF,” and these guidelines are quite explicit in the purpose of such action;
  1. To liberate animals from places of abuse, i.e. fur farms, laboratories, factory farms, etc. and place them in good homes where they may live out their natural lives free from suffering.
  2. To inflict economic damage to those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.
  3. To reveal the horror and atrocities committed against animals behind locked doors by performing nonviolent direct actions and liberations.
  4. To take all necessary precautions against hurting any animal, human and non-human.
  5. To analyze the ramifications of any proposed action and never apply generalizations (e.g. all ‘blank’ are evil) when specific information is available.
The fourth and fifth point are important, as they are in line with the anarchist position on nearly all matters. The ALF state explicitly that “the ALF does not, in any way, condone violence against any animal, human or non-human. Any action involving violence is by its definition not an ALF action, and any person involved is not an ALF member.” As such, “in over 20 years, and thousands of actions, nobody has ever been injured or killed in an ALF action.” Under such conditions, and noting the caveats outlined above in regard to capitalist production, freedom of choice, and utilitarianism over the idea of animal “rights,” I cannot condemn direct action “ecoterrorism.”
Thus, local communities and groups opposed to practices such as fox-baiting, dog-fighting, and the like should be encouraged to physically intervene when they can to rescue the afflicted animals. Done right, this shouldn't involve assault or the initiation of violence.

However, self-defence when those involved react is entirely permissable. And I, for one, would have no qualms if any of these idiots found themselves on the receiving end of a good kicking.