Animal Rights and Activism: Background information when reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler X
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2013, 320 pages
    Feb 2014, 320 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Animal Rights and Activism

Print Review

People have debated the rights of animals since early times. The relationship between people and animals has generated many different and widely varying perspectives. Here's a quick trek through some of them, following in animals' footsteps – whether four-footed or two:

Great Chain of BeingIn the 6th century BCE, Pythagoras taught that both animals and humans had souls that reincarnated between the two. However, Aristotle in the 4th century BCE, in his writings on animal classification, placed non-human animals below humans in what became known as the Great Chain of Being.

Considering that the Book of Genesis tells us that Adam was given dominion over all other living creatures, leading to a widely accepted interpretation of animals as things to be possessed and used by mankind, it is interesting to note that one of the first groups to create legal codes to protect domestic animals from cruelty were the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641. Their publication, The Body of Liberties, which was the first printed legal code in America, documented two liberties pertaining to animals:

  • No man shall exercise any Tirrany or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man's use.
  • If any man shall have occasion to leade or drive Cattel from place to place that is far off, so that they be weary, or hungry, or fall sick, or lambe, It shall be lawful to rest or refresh them for a competent time, in any place that is not Corne, meadow, or inclosed for some peculiar use.

During the same time period Rene Descartes, in his Meditations, denied that animals were sentient, and thus believed that they could not feel pain or suffering nor could they experience a sense of well being.

By the middle of the 18th century, sentiment in Europe was beginning to shift, as can be seen in Jean Jacque Rousseau's philosophical treatise, Discourse on Inequality (1754), in which he stated his belief that animals have consciousnesses, entitling them to the privilege of being spared from ill treatment.

Trial of Bill BurnsIn 1824, several Members of Parliament formed the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London. America formed its own Society in 1866. Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and John Stuart Mill were all 19th century proponents of animal rights.

In the 20th century, various writers and groups took up the cause. The publication of the bestselling Animal Liberation (1975) by Australian philosopher Peter Singer provided a key text for what had become a movement. A number of groups formed to fight abuses against animals, including the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

Ben Isacat's posterIn We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Lowell uses his involvement and contacts in the ALF to locate Fern. According to their website, the ALF's mission is "To effectively allocate resources (time and money) to end the 'property' status of nonhuman animals." Their objective is "to abolish institutionalized animal exploitation because it assumes that animals are property." How to Do Animal Rights is a free online book written by conservationist, biologist, animal rights activist and ALF supporter Ben Isacat outlining his philosophy on animal rights.

ALF is international in scope and while its members claim to be non-violent, critics of the group have accused some activists of arson and vandalism, and some activists connected to ALF have been convicted of illegal or terrorist actions. In 2005, John E. Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated, "The eco-terrorist movement has given rise and notoriety to groups such as the ALF, and the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF. These groups exist to commit serious acts of vandalism, and to harass and intimidate owners and employees of the business sector."

Of course there are many other animal rights organizations. National agencies such as The Humane Society of the United States, international agencies such as The International Fund for Animal Welfare, and smaller, more specialized agencies such as The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee and The Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, to name just a few, all focus their efforts on animal rights. The list goes on, as does the debate.

First image: Reinterpreted chain of being with living and fossil animals, Ernst Haeckel, 1874. Second image: A painting of the trial of Bill Burns, which led to the world's first known conviction for animal cruelty, after he was found beating his donkey. Third image: One of Ben Isacat's Animal Rights posters.

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in June 2013, and has been updated for the February 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    A hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.