Sunday, June 22, 2014

Seeing "Euthanasia" as an Extension of the Capitalist Project

Oftentimes we explore the problem of “euthanasia” (generally a euphemism for the killing of healthy dogs and cats) as a basic matter of morality or rights ethics. I argue that we should also be exploring this as an extension of anti-capitalist efforts as well.  Norm Phelps has argued that the dog and cat industry is a capitalist one, with consumers encouraged to purchase designer dogs and cats and to dispose of them when trends or lifestyles change.  “Shelters,” he argues, are to the dog and cat industry as the landfill is to other material goods. Shelters exist to dispose of unwanted dogs and cats who are continually produced, consumed, and disposed of in a constant capitalist cycle. Euthanasia is an essential component to capitalism.

The arguments for euthanasia are really quite disturbing in this light, especially given similar projects designed to eliminate unwanted human populations that are a burden on the capitalist treadmill. I have heard it argued that not killing dogs and cats waiting on homes is “a waste of people’s time and money.”  Ironically, I saw this argument made in an anti-capitalist animal rights space. But this is the very logic of capitalism, that is, to view sentient beings as disposable objects measured by their monetary value.  Strange, when it comes to privileged groups, where there's a will, there's a way. When it comes to devalued groups, killing is just "common sense."

When a sentient being is deemed a burden to the capitalist system, that sentient being becomes extremely vulnerable to suffering and death. Recall Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Public, which suggests that the burdensome poor Irish could be repurposed for wealthy persons . . . killed and served up as food.

Consider also “overpopulation” rhetoric which is promulgated by wealthy Western nations who see the masses of poor in third world countries as a burden on the capitalist system (similar programs have targeted poor women of color in the United States as well). “Population control” efforts invariably target vulnerable poor persons, usually brown, and usually women.  These efforts are intended to annihilate entire groups of people—masked as “family planning,” they are often dangerous, non-consensual, and life-threatening.

The notion that vulnerable groups can be “euthanized” or “controlled” “for their own good” (a position held by privileged groups), that euthanasia is a "rational" matter to save “people’s time and money” is the language of oppression . . . capitalist oppression. We should be critical of this line of thought.  It won’t get us any closer to liberation. It only normalizes exploitation and objectification.