When discussing the ‘winners and losers’ of the global political economy, we often consider the many different ethnic groups, socio-economic groups, sexual orientations, and political affiliations, all of which center around people. Due to the fact that human beings are arguably the main actors and influencers of the global political economy, we tend to focus on ourselves, and as a result we rarely give any consideration to animals and their role within the economy. The commodification of animals has led to two extremes, and more often than not, animals are arguably the losers within the global political economy.
On one side of the story, there is the increasingly popular trend of keeping animals as pets, whereby many animals are spoilt and pampered and treated like members of the family. Sometimes we go to extreme lengths to ‘humanise’ our pets; I am most definitely guilty of this as I once convinced my neighbour to sew my pet kitten a dress…I’ll explain later. Although caring for our pets is most definitely a good thing; with the rise of capitalism, our sense of entitlement and ownership over things can have a detrimental effect on the welfare of animals.
That is why unfortunately, on the other side of the story, the commodification of animals has also led to the torture and murder of many different species of animals across the globe. Sadly, there are so many different cases to discuss; whether it’s the ivory trade and its consequential poaching of elephants, the ironic slaughter of animals by so called animal rights group PETA, or the unjustifiable mistreatment and torture of dolphins within the marine park industry. A common element within all of these stories is that there is an underlying economic factor within each of them. The commodification of animals is possibly most present within zoos; an entire industry built upon people paying money to see animals in captivity.
Although it is possible to argue that zoos hold benefits; they can be educational as well as protect endangered animals, we must not forget the other side of the argument. Every now and then we hear stories of animals being mistreated within zoos, most recently it was reported that Copenhagen Zoo euthanised four healthy lions just a few weeks after putting down and publicly dissecting a young giraffe. In addition to this, I would argue that the concept of zoos and paying money to stare and gawk at incarcerated animals is strange and creepy. Say no to zoos and yes to nature reserves!
Lastly, when on the topic of the commodification of animals, it’s only fitting to examine the meat industry. To quote The Smiths song ‘Meat is Murder’, written by two of the most influential advocates of vegetarianism (and possibly my favourite Mancunians) Johnny Marr and Steve Morrissey;
‘It’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind, the flesh you so fancifully fry, the meat in your mouth as you savour the flavour of murder… it’s death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder’.
Regardless of your opinion on Morrissey, he most definitely has a point. In the increasingly interconnectedness of the world that we live in today, the majority of us are privileged enough to have access to a variety of different types of food, regardless of what season it is, and regardless of whether said food is even produced within the country that we live in. The point being that we no longer need meat to sustain ourselves; we do not live in a time where resources and access to food are sparse. Anyone who argues that we need meat in order to stay healthy only needs to look at vegan bodybuilders to see that it is possible to have a meat-less diet and still be a vision of health. Possibly one of the most negative impacts that capitalism has had on the human psyche is its ability to distort our thought-processes from being able to differentiate between what we want and what we actually need. Again, this links back to our sense of entitlement and self-righteousness.
What are your thoughts on the commodification of animals? Are animals really the losers within the global political economy or do some of the positives outweigh the negatives? Is it possible to argue that the global political economy is not to blame due to the fact that animals were tortured and slaughtered in a time that predates capitalism? To end, I highly encourage everyone to watch The Cove; a documentary that raises awareness to the issue of dolphin hunting in Japan.
Deena Abdo (Dubai Campus)