What is Animals Taking Over?

Crossposted from AnimalsTakingOver.com

When I began writing Animals Taking Over in 2013, my primary goal was simply to improve my own skills as a writer. After years of watching programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, reading The Onion, and listening to The No Agenda Show, it became clear to me that the mainstream media and The News is utter nonsense.

As is the case with so many monolithic industries, the News is a mass-produced, monetized commodity, often disseminated with the obvious goal of manipulating the audience rather than informing or educating. I see no real value in the production of such banal drivel other than to sedate the audience, to instill fear of The Other, or to make an appeal to the audience’s confirmation bias.

The Conan O’Brien Show, for example, has a long history of lampooning the News via its Local News Roundup segment. Pause for a moment here to view “Is it time for Dogs to have a Social Network of their Own?”

The writing underlying the News is weak, lazy, and predictable. In its embarrassing present state, the News more closely resembles MadLibs than true journalism. After analyzing only a handful of stories and deconstructing “the formula,” it becomes clear that anyone with half a brain and a touch of moxie can write in the style of News.

I began my project by reblogging amusing posts of animals that made their way to my tumblr dashboard, and at first I saw little need for commentary. But soon I found the exercise to be even more rewarding as I intentionally sought to incorporate humor as a vehicle to spark conversation about truth, fake news, and the relationship between humans and animals.

I conceived of a world where Humans and Non-Human Animals (NHAs) existed in a perpetual state of war that for political reasons was referred to only as “the continuing conflict.” This was a world counterfactual to our own, where humans dominated animals in every conceivable way, from the use of force to the dissemination of propaganda that served to reify the Conflict and homosapien hegemony.

I was Vegan when I started ATO, and the consumption of animal products has made its way back into my life since then. However, I still very much care about animals and find the ways humans exploit them to be abhorrent and morally repugnant. It’s an ongoing atrocity in which I fully admit to now finding myself complicit.

Considerable strides in Animal Welfare have been made over the years, but one need only consider the intrepid photography of Jo-Anne McArthur’s We Animals series to rediscover the horrific realities of modern NHA genocide and industrial scale exploitation, or the disturbing truths behind the work of investigative journalist Will Potter’s Green is the New Red to confirm that indeed there is a true interspecies war at play.



My view about the Animals has evolved over time from one closely aligned with thinkers such as Benthem, Francione, and Torres, to one more along the lines of Kymlicka and Donaldson. Even now as a non-vegan I find the idea of a utopic Zoopolis to be the most realistic and achievable, for it is a view that seeks to fully recognize Humans and Non-Human Animals for what they are–nothing more and nothing less. A truly modern Zoopolis is one that acknowledges the duties and responsibilities that Humans have for Non-Human Animals.

Enter the absurd. From the post-WWII French philosophers, writers, and artists (see Beckett, Camus, Sartre) we learned to deploy the absurd as a theater for examining and clarifying our own views about the world and ourselves. It is a space that forces us to define the necessary and sufficient conditions underwhich our values are founded.

When I speak of Animal Rights, it should be obvious that I am not implying Canines should be afforded the right to drive cars and operate heavy machinery, or that Felines should become fashion moguls, or that Goats secretly control the world’s monetary system. This is absurd.

Instead, I utilize the Absurd to implicitly argue that these species are just as entitled to live in peace and safety as our own and that the well-being of our planet depends on interspecies coexistence, rather than continuing conflict. In the long-term, homosapiens will face a reckoning for the unjust treatment perpetuated upon our planet and our fellow Earthlings.

Whether it be the loss of vital ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef through our over-consumption and environmental neglect, the annihilation of the Great Cats of Africa for sport, or the mass extinction of autonomous Bird Tribes as their migratory paths are disrupted, there is only one known species on this planet who will shoulder the blame: the human animal.

If we fail to expand our understanding of inclusion within the moral community, and continue our path of species-interest and planetary dominance, we will see our own destruction, as well as the elimination of the full majesty that is Nature.

It is my belief that our species, exalted for millennia as the rational animal, is unique in that we are the sole species that can be expected to fulfil duties not only to those we recognize as our own, but also to those who are clearly different from us. This applies to lines of race, religion, gender, sexuality, and yes, even species. I’m no Christian, but I do not jest when I assert that truly the Animals are the least of these among us Earthlings, and we will be judged for what we have done unto them (Matthew 25:40). For they are here with us, not for us.

The emerging science of Cognitive Ethology has taught us through observation and reproducible experimentation that Non-Human Animals are like us in every. way. that. matters. Yes, capability varies from species to species, but as a whole, the Animals form family units, they feel complex emotions such as fear and joy, they create art, they mourn the loss of loved ones, they go insane when isolated from their tribes, they recognize one another, they internalize trauma, they express devotion to beings beyond the borders of their own species.

As the Animal liberationist and intellectual Steven Best so eloquently expounded in his 2012 talk at the Sapienza University of Rome:

“They are sentient beings like we are. Because we are Animals too. And because everything we have, every moral capacity, every capacity to think, we got from the Animals through an evolutionary continuum. And of course we are different from animals: No, they can’t build space ships. No, they don’t do Algebra. No, they don’t write Romantic poetry like Shelley. Goddamnit can you swim like a whale? Can you fly like an eagle? Can you hear like a bat? Are you as beautiful as a cat? Do you smell as good as a cat? To single out Reason as the criteria for the moral universe and for who gets rights and who doesn’t, and who belongs in the community and who doesn’t…It’s absolutely absurd and arbitrary!”

I never expected anyone to take notice of Animals Taking Over, nor could I have predicted the prominent role that Fake News™ would play in our very real political moment of Donald Trump’s presidency. But this is where we find ourselves: Unable to believe that which is seen, unable to hope for truth in what we think is real, and ill-equipped to forge a path forward toward epistemic authenticity.

Where we go from here, I cannot guess. What I do know is that there are boots on the ground doing real work to end the continuing conflict between Humans and Non-Human Animals. The Nonhuman Rights Project is an example of a Real ™ group of Human activists, scholars, lawyers, and freedom fighters working to secure real protections for real NHAs.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, public policy advocacy, and education to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.

I urge you to look into the Nonhuman Rights Project and consider donating to support their important work to end our war with the Animals, and to create a lasting, more inclusive and expansive circle of belonging within the moral community (Francione, Warren).

Till we meet again, adieu.

Joshua E. Judd

05 March 2018


BJ Bud’s Proud Legacy

Do you know who BJ Bud was? She was a hero in Phoenix at the height of the AIDS crisis. BJ was a woman who would help anyone, and she would do whatever it took to keep her people alive. This was at a time when gay men like me were dying everyday. We were dropping like flies and yet very few with the power to act would hear our pleas, take us seriously, or fight along side us.

When I worked as the Coordinator of the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center I was responsible for the care and operation of the BJ Bud Memorial Library, a monument to an incredible lesbian who fought for us when we could not fight for ourselves, and when others would not care so much as to listen to news reports of our decimation. The library is a monument created in her honor and in remembrance of her. This monument’s inception was catalyzed by the demolition of an historic gay bar: the 307 located in Downtown Phoenix on Roosevelt.

It’s true—gay bars have long been destinations that carry significant symbolic weight for our community. We existed well before the tragic events of the Orlando Pulse Massacre on June 12, 2016. Because of those tragic events, 53 people woke up the next day as victims of a hate crime, while 49 people never woke up at all. And once again, those of us lucky enough to live another day were reminded, there are still those out there who would wage war against a people only now learning to survive in the years following a plague. We’re still here.

BJ Bud’s library houses over 7000 items of LGBTQ media: fiction and nonfiction books, periodicals, zines, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and an archive of our local LGBTQ community’s history from BJ’s time through the present. Even today, with society’s progressively-shifted values, getting caught by your parents with LGBTQ media can prove to be a worst case scenario for many of our youth, a population still four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, according to the CDC.

When I served as Coordinator of the Center, two specific branches of my tribe utilized our services more than any other: our Trans community and our Gay male elders. True, there were days when I could be less than enthusiastic about my job at the Center, but it is the work I will always value and take pride in. Some of the men who I was proud to serve as they met every week for social support were the very same men BJ fought for. Because of her mission, people she saved outlived even BJ. I can’t think of anything else that more epitomizes the case of a job well done, of Mission: Accomplished.

BJ Bud was a hero I never met, but whose legacy makes me swell with pride every day to be a member of the LGBTQ Community.

Learn even more about the BJ Bud Memorial Library.

Monument Valley: A Game to Remember

Monument ValleyMonument Valley is a mind-warping mobile puzzle game with stunning visuals, satisfying gameplay, and awesome audio.

The game is about Princess Ida’s journey to uncover the secrets of a lost, sacred geometry. There is no violence in the game, and each level is a unique architectural marvel set in an M. C. Escher-like world.

The visuals of the game are phenomenal. They’re probably the most talked about feature of the game, but my favorite components are the background sound and gameplay audio. As you slide platforms and twist gears in sequence, you create harmonic chords that make you want to keep playing.

Each level takes the form of a different self-contained puzzle world. The player moves the game’s hero, Princess Ida, through the levels by changing camera perspectives and revealing new pathways to areas of the world hidden by optical illusions.

Although Monument Valley is a puzzle game, it wasn’t designed to stump the player. Instead, the focus is surprise and delight as Ida progresses through her journey.

Developed at a digital design studio called ustwo, Monument Valley’s creators sought to construct an experience for players that valued the medium as an emerging artform. The team of programmers, artists, and designers at ustwo don’t typically work on games, and they employed a singular approach that resulted in a game with a compelling narrative that feels as much like a music video as it does a video game.

Ustwo wanted to design a game that would appeal to all potential players (not just teen boys and hardcore gamers). At a fundamental level, the game was designed to specifically value inclusion:

  • Ida is relatively featureless, allowing players to project themselves into the game
  • the game is not too hard, so any player can win
  • the game is not too long, so any player can finish
  • gameplay is so audio-visually appealing as to be mass-market

Part of the promise and appeal of the iPad was that it was a computer for everyone. As a game built specifically for mobile devices, Monument Valley was designed to be a game for everyone.

Not only that, but Monument Valley is very much its own game. This isn’t just another platformer, shooter, or racing game. It’s also more than a classic arcade game repackaged with updated graphics (e.g. Frogger -> Crossy Road). Monument Valley is a game to remember.

More about Monument Valley:

  • over 5 million copies sold on Android and iOS
  • sales have soared to over $13 million
  • featured by Apple, Google, and appeared on House of Cards
  • offered a promotional expansion pack for World AIDS Day 2014

Infinite Jest Reading Log

The Book

infinite jestPeople my age and younger might not be familiar with David Foster Wallace’s seminal work, Infinite Jest, as it was first published in 1996 when we were all quite young. I hadn’t even heard of David Foster Wallace until 2009 when a good friend began reading IJ. Although I was interested, another two years went by before I gave any of his works a chance.

I dove into the Pale King, which is another of DFW’s sizable novels, and is sometimes credited as being the opposite side of the same coin that includes Infinite Jest as the Pale King’s more notable counterpart.

Published three years after DFW’s death, and still largely unfinished, the Pale King acts an appropriate foil to Infinite Jest. TPK’s central theme is arguably that of a world of never-ending, mind-numbing boredom, whereas IJ is broadly about America’s relationship to an overabundance of entertainment and endless distraction.

With the 20th anniversary of the book’s release looming on the horizon, I thought now would be a good time to finally take the 1000-page plunge.

How does one describe the Entertainment?

The story is set in the near future and takes place in the Organization of North American Nations (ONAN), which so far appears to be a mega-nation of sorts that includes the US and Canada (and maybe Mexico and more?).

Although ONAN exists in the near future, it’s not a science fictiony kind of future. The futurism affords DFW the freedom needed to make keen observations about trends in the present (whenever that happens to be), without the reader feeling overwhelmed. In other words, even 20 years after publication, IJ is just far off enough to be whimsical while remaining completely recognizable.

The world of IJ is one of subsidized time, meaning the naming rights of each year are sold off to the highest bidder. Chapters jump back and forth through time, but the majority of the main storyline takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (YDAU). One exciting part of reading Infinite Jest right now is that after a bit of sleuthing and dot-connecting, it becomes apparent that the dates of YDAU align with the year 2015. As a reader, you feel like you’re experiencing the book in quite a special moment.

I’m still discovering and understanding the plot, which is only just beginning to emerge in any coherent form. Most novels are written linearly, with a beginning, middle and end. The plot of these novels follows the common format of Exposition, Rising Action (conflict, conflict, conflict), Climax, Falling Action, Resolution. Not so with IJ.

The timeline of events within Infinite Jest more closely resembles an enormous yarn ball, all knotted up with each chapter zooming into a section of that yarn ball and unraveling it just enough to begin looking comprehensible before stringing the reader along to a completely different but somehow connected part of the story on the other side of that yarn ball.

Much of the yarn has to do with the Incandenza family, who live at an elite youth tennis academy near Boston, which they founded and operate to this day. The family’s patriarch, James O. Incandenza (who is a filmmaker as well as a tennis-enthusiast) creates a film so enchantingly entertaining that anyone who consumes it loses all desire to do anything else in life aside from continue watching it. Hilarity and chaos ensue.

Incandenza’s film is sometimes simply referred to as the Entertainment, though it’s proper and fitting title is Infinite Jest.

The Genius, David Foster Wallace Himself

I’ve watched and listened to a handful of interviews with David Foster Wallace, and when they’re combined with reading his work, one thing is abundantly clear: DFW was a genius.

I mean, really. You read his work and listen to him speak in these interviews, and you can tell. It’s like he sees the world in such a unique and precise way, that when he describes it everything is so obvious. It’s painfully apparent how frustrated he is by others, how it’s clear that if the world could see at even 10% of what he sees at 110%, then! Well, then we’d all be geniuses.

I know that authors are always compared to the characters they create, but without spoiling it, I’ll just say that the parallels between DFW and James O. Incandenza are striking indeed.

Advice So Far

Read this book! I’m just about 1/3 of the way through Infinite Jest, but I think I’m in love. I’ve never enjoyed a work of fiction in quite this way or to quite this degree. Every page is as challenging as it is rewarding.

My goal is to finish by the end of December, by which time I fully expect to have a much-loved (bent, torn, stained) 1,079-page paperback trophy to add to my bookshelf: a well-deserved and hard-earned sign of the numerous hours I spent this winter in the land of ONAN.

Essential Elements of Strong Communities

Communities are complex systems of human people. They can be organized around any number of characteristics: geography, age, religion, creed, level of education, occupation, common interest, and more. I like one of the definitions I found in the Dictionary app on my Mac: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” It’s not perfect, but it’s a starting point.

I’ve been a member of many different communities so far in my life, and I’ve even been lucky enough to work professionally with the aim of strengthening and enriching some of these communities for the benefit of their members. In my experience doing so, I’ve recognized a number of elements common to strong communities. Below is a brief exploration of three essential elements that have been on my mind recently.

I’m sure these ideas could be expanded even further, and I might not have them quite right as they’re articulated here, so please let me know in the comments if you have anything to add!

1) Shared Values > Shared Identity

A value is a type of belief that includes an attitude about the world.

This may go without saying, but values are different from identities. However, because of community dynamics, the two often go hand in hand. For simplicity’s sake, many communities are named for identity markers, but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that values are what give the community its shape.

For example, we may reference the LGBT community, implying that LGBT identity is the organizing characteristic of the community. I don’t think that’s quite right. There are many straight allies who feel very much a part of the LGBT community, and there are also queer-identified folks who see themselves as outsiders from the mainstream LGBT community. This means that shared identity is a sufficient condition for group membership, but it’s not a necessary condition.

2) Norms: customs of community

Communities may have explicitly stated guidelines (e.g. No hate speech) but they also have norms that are just as important. Norms are not laws, they’re not even as strict as “rules.” Think about driving. Sure, we have plenty of traffic laws on the books. “Rules of the road,” they’re sometimes called. But we also have norms. They’re not codified in law, but they’re just as important for preventing chaos on the road. Many of them are based in values of politeness and mutual respect.

Norms include customs, traditions, etiquette, and interpersonal conduct. They determine how we treat one another and what we expect from each other.

Norms change and evolve over time, just like values. The difference is that while a value is a kind of belief, a norm is a pattern of behavior. It’s something we do.

One example of a norm within the LGBT community is to ask for PGP, or preferred gender pronouns. This norm carries with it the shared value of the community that gender can be self-determined or self-defined, that a person’s gender might not fit neatly within the gender binary, and that all of us should show respect for the preferred gender pronouns of our community members. It also implies that we shouldn’t make assumptions about a person’s gender just by looking at them. Our values are manifest through norms.

Do you expect visitors to take off their shoes when they enter your home? That’s a norm. Do you have an expectation or pattern of behavior related to attribution in sharing content on social media? That’s a norm.

Developing norms contribute to the formation and maintenance of a community’s culture. The health of a community’s culture is a direct result of the degree to which that community’s norms are fine tuned to benefit the members of the community in an optimal way.

3) Language: a common tongue

This doesn’t necessarily refer to a shared written or spoken natural language, though there certainly are communities based on those. Icelandic, for example, is spoken by just over 300,000 people worldwide. This may be a sufficient condition for the recognition of a community based solely on its members speaking Icelandic.

But let’s explore an example to illustrate how the common tongue of a community is separate from that community’s spoken language. The phrase “Tap that” will mean something entirely different within the community of Magic: the Gathering players than the craft brewing community. Further, the same phrase may carry a third meaning among executives involved in petroleum extraction, and a fourth among teenage boys. The phrase is in English, but depending on the context of the community in question, a different meaning is conveyed.

In the context of community, language is specialized and nuanced, and includes dialects with unique lexicons specific to those communities.

Are you fluent in the language of Twitter? If so, words like “retweet,” “@reply,” and “DMs” mean something to you. You may even remember a time when “retweet” wasn’t a feature, but instead referred to a specific syntax employed when sharing the tweets of another user. All this is part of a shared tongue unknown to those outside the community.

If the phrases “contributing to core,” “bikeshedding,” “ovo- lacto-,” ‘for the animals,” or “what’s your twenty?” mean anything to you, it says something about the communities you are a part of.

Shared values, healthy norms, and a common tongue with which to communicate.

I’m sure there are additional elements that when amplified can contribute to the strength of communities. Another I’ve been thinking a lot about are the tools we use, and the ways in which members of a community bond over the creation of and use of their tools. Can you think of any other essential elements of strong communities?

PS: I don’t claim to know everything about the communities of which I’m a part, but I’ve done my best to articulate my understanding of our various shared values and norms. I recognize I might not have described everything just right, but I hope readers will be charitable in their interpretations of what I’m trying to get at with the examples I’ve chosen. By all means, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Is Veganism a Toxic Culture?

Today as I was scrolling through my reader I came across this video and post from Tobias Leenaert at the Vegan Strategist. It’s one of the best talks I’ve seen in the past few months on the topic of Veganism, especially as I’ve been trying to formulate and organize my thoughts on the next stage of my personal Veganism, which I now call Secular Veganism.

Source: Anti-vegan: the lasagne

Tobias makes several great points throughout the talk, but here are the ones that really struck me:

  • practice slow opinion
  • what goes into your mouth is less important than what comes out
  • anger does not make you a better activist
  • “winning an argument but losing a customer”
  • guilt doesn’t help convert people to veganism
  • take your thinking further than the accepted logic of the movement

I also loved the portion about whether we want a vegan club or a Vegan world. For me, the question relates back to what I wrote about a few days ago, with regard to whether you identify or qualify. Is Veganism a club that you can be accepted into/kicked out of based on ticking off items one-by-one from a litmus test-like check list, or does it have the potential to become something larger?

The AR movement has been around long enough now that you’d think we would have developed a more robust discourse for self-reflection and critique, but I rarely see it. In my experience, we have a lot of sacred cows at the core of Vegan ideology and attempts at critical thought quickly devolve into vegan-blaming.

We (Vegans) need to consider whether or not we have become a toxic culture, and what that means for the movement and for the animals.