I am a Vegan. I am a Jew. And I am no shrinking violet: my work in law and fiction has exposed me to the depths of human depravity and its concomitant suffering. Yet I have historically avoided the dreaded comparison of the Holocaust and the oppression of animals. My reaction to it has always been visceral and unpleasant and so it was when I read David Sztybel’s article “Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to The Holocaust?” in short bouts, keen minutes of intense focus punctuated with sips of very cold water. Alone and in silence.
I should preface this: David Sztybel is a highly intelligent, sensitive, well-read and effective communicator. An expert in Animal Ethics: the guy knows his shit, right. Which is why I trusted to his words.
Sztybel utilizes the front foot with his opening gambit “Although nothing occurring in the realm of oppression is ever quite the same as anything else, I hold that, in certain relevant respects, both broad and detailed comparisons can be made between the Holocaust and what I refer to as the oppression of animals.” In the same proactive style he clearly addresses what for me anyway, were my key concerns apropos the comparison: making the comparison in question is a moral offence against Holocaust victims; it trivializes the Holocaust and all of the immeasurable suffering that its victims lived through and died from. Sztybel addresses other concerns just as effectively, but for me, the former were the deal breakers.
As he says, the real question is not whether the comparison can be made. He does it; it is done. The real question is whether we should dare to make the comparison. I am not going to pick through the article point by point, suffice to say that its reading was an emotional and intellectual watershed for me which finally convinced me that we should. You should read it for yourself: take your own journey. There will be those who focus on pitting the value of an animal life against the life of a human. Don’t. Start with the tangible and less abstract truths here: Sztybel also has a photo essay to accompany the above article: start with this. Like the written text piece it focuses more on the methodology, discourse and apparatus of both oppressions, the comparable modus operandi and bloody corporeal results of these two evils. All too evident in his words, the truth, in pictures, is even more easily assimilated.
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He is famously quoted from his opinion in the obscenity case of Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). He wrote that "hard-core pornography" is hard to define, but that "I know it when I see it."
So too with comparable oppressions.