Restorative Justice and the Environment: Why Anarchists Should Support the Animal Rights Movement

One of the problems I’ve seen with anarchism is that while an anarchist society itself would egalitarian and therefore more just than our present society, it seemingly lacks a means of justice, a means of dealing with what sociologists call “deviant” behavior—behavior like theft or assault that isn’t acceptable within the society. But justice, in the commercial society conception, is problematic. First, it isn’t really even justice, but rather law, passed by elites, enforced with weapons, and systemically practiced as racism and classism. I’ve commented previously both on “justice” in our society,[1] and on the role of police in our society,[2] and it isn’t a pretty—or even particularly effective—picture. As Steven Barkan writes, “to reduce crime, we must address its structural and cultural roots. Even if we could somehow ‘cure’ all the criminals, new ones will replace them unless the structural and cultural conditions underlying crime are changed.”[3]

If we need a different approach, it might behoove us to look at more peaceful societies, and see how they solve this problem. For instance, an indigenous hunter-gatherer society visited by Colin Turnbull could resort to seemingly life-threatening punishments of “deviant” members. But someone would, for example, sneak food off to an expelled member and it wasn’t long before that person was back, as if nothing had happened, fully accepted within the group. In that society, what was important was the interdependence of people upon each other; the real offense did not seem even to be, in Turnbull’s examples, laziness, selfishness, or adultery, but rather a disruption of social harmony. So a question arises: Is there something to learn from people of the Ituri Forest in what was, when Turnbull visited it, the Belgian Congo?[4]

It’s summer break, I’m not in class, and—this should sound familiar—I’m once again trying to catch up on a considerable backlog of reading. I’ve almost finished a book entitled Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, edited by Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith.[5] It’s a long book with contributions from a number of authors who highlight, among other things, the issues of colonization as an ongoing practice against indigenous people. I return to the problems of justice and of police with a chapter on restorative justice near the end of the book entitled, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage.”[6]

Colonization, I should explain, is not just imperialism but an endemic practice of dominator society. Any subaltern person is in some sense colonized. S/he is chronically subject to structural or physical violence and has been reduced to a state of dependence upon more powerful people for sustenance or the means to obtain that sustenance. Those who, in Max Weber’s understanding, are forced to exchange their labor for sustenance because they have a diminished capacity to refuse a deal[7] are colonized people. Indigenous people, who have been deprived of vast territories that were once their homes, and who face all sorts of social ills on reservations are certainly colonized people. The understanding the authors in the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies are reaching for is that colonization is a form of force that justifies colonial rule by stigmatizing the colonized as culturally and individually less worthy and therefore needing the colonizer’s authoritarianism; deprives the colonized of freedoms, liberties, and opportunities; and subjects the colonized to the colonizer’s putatively “benevolent” rule in a relationship that bears a strong resemblance to slavery.

We are thus, in the colonial understanding, to understand that workers require their corporate masters; the people of India required their British overlords (and look what has happened since!); Africans’ conditions were improved through abduction, close confinement aboard slave ships, and forced labor for masters of European origin; women and people of color do best when channeled into low-status occupations based on gender or color; and indigenous children benefit from being removed from their societies and families, placed in residential schools to acculturate them to dominator ways, and forced to speak the colonizer’s language. In reality, these are terribly traumatic and harmful relationships that benefit the colonizer at an egregious expense of the colonized. The colonizers justify their presence fallaciously, casting generalized statements about the colonized subjects as “objective” when they reflect only the colonizers’ perspective and universalizing colonizers’ values as aspirational for colonized subjects. Further, colonizers interpret any resistance to their rule as a character defect endemic to colonized society even when it is committed by only a few individuals.[8]

Because colonial relationships, seen variously as structural violence and social injustice, especially when manifest as poverty, are so harmful, it is unsurprising that they exacerbate social problems rather than reducing crime. David Barash and Charles Webel call for “positive peace,” actual solutions to the problems that lead to violence, in contrast to what they call “negative peace,” which is simply the absence of violence. Jeffrey Reiman argues that human needs must be alleviated before the U.S. criminal (in)justice system can even be on par ethically with the behaviors it putatively seeks to restrain.[9]

More profoundly, while Wanda McCaslin and Denise Breton never use the word anarchism, they connect the “deviant” behavior caused by colonial relationships to the dominator structure of society itself.[10] As Weber observed, “Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.”[11] And, he wrote, “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”[12] Gerhard Lenski adds to this that rulers seek to substitute propaganda justifications for their rule for physical force,[13] but when all is said and done, as we see with the brutality directed against the Occupy movement and historically against the uprisings that stem from social inequality, the power of the state still lies in physical force exercised by police, military, and paramilitary forces.[14]

Our dominator society is in many ways highly irrational. It disfigures people mentally (and often physically) and is a principal cause of social problems. These social problems cannot be solved as long as we continue to organize ourselves using coercive hierarchy. Further, McCaslin and Breton answer Uri Gordon’s concern that accountability for one’s actions entails enforcement and thus domination by offering a form of justice that brings together victims and perpetrators in a painstaking process to address all the causes of “deviant” behavior—including dominator society itself.[15]

But the implications of restorative justice go beyond what I think indigenous people, whom McCaslin and Breton focus on, would expect. The attitudes which underlie the genocidal policies directed at indigenous people have also profoundly damaged the environment. In both cases, the colonizer asserts superiority, first to people who have lived for hundreds of thousands of years in small, sustainable societies, and second, to nature itself.[16] While it is certainly true that relatively egalitarian indigenous societies were largely hunter-gatherer societies, it is also the case that the world’s population has grown to billions of people, and the problems of sustainability must now be solved for social groupings that are vastly larger than hunter-gatherer societies could ever support. Those who recognize that humans must live in harmony with the earth, so that the earth may continue to sustain us, must understand that restorative justice must be extended to the planet itself.

And to its animals. Because pattrice jones powerfully points out the parallels between men’s domination of women and humans’ domination of animals, the parallels between the rationales for those dominations, and how those dominations are in fact the same domination.[17] This is, once again, an attitude that the earth and its creatures exist for human exploitation, just as most humans within colonizer society exist for the exploitation of the elite.[18] Solving our problems means cooperation that bridges our differences.[19] It means a cooperative society that solves problems rather than locking people away and throwing away the key.[20] It means making the most efficient use of resources to feed the maximum number of people in a world with a still-rapidly growing population, meaning, according to the United Nations, a shift away from meat and dairy products (toward a vegan diet).[21] Restorative justice that saves our planet is thus a justice that includes animals within its protection.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works’,”, March 15, 2012,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Cops, gangs, and the conflation of roles,”, August 6, 2011,
  3. [3]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006), 543.
  4. [4]Colin Turnbull, The Forest People (New York: Touchstone, 1968).
  5. [5]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).
  6. [6]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.
  7. [7]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  8. [8]Jacqueline Fear-Segal, White Man’s Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 2009; Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, Transforming Knowledge, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2005); Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders (Durham, NC: Duke University, 2003); Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994).
  9. [9]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002); Barkan, Criminology; Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  10. [10]McCaslin and Breton, “Justice as Healing.”
  11. [11]Max Weber, “What Is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114.
  12. [12]Weber, “What is Politics?” 115.
  13. [13]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966).
  14. [14]Bettina Aptheker, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel (Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2006); David Benfell, “Joshua Holland needs to answer this,”, March 21, 2012,; Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005.
  15. [15]Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2010); Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory (London: Pluto, 2008); McCaslin and Breton, “Justice as Healing.”
  16. [16]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008); Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
  17. [17]pattrice jones, “Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 137-156.
  18. [18]Mark Bernstein, “Legitimizing Liberation,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 93-105.
  19. [19]Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders.
  20. [20]McCaslin and Breton, “Justice as Healing.”
  21. [21]United Nations Environment Programme, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production – Priority Products and Materials, June, 2010,

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