Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Animal Resistance

On Feb 25, 2010 the Counterpunch website ran an article by Jason Hribal recounting how two orca whales, “Nootka” and “Tilikum,” had fought against their trainers, killing one of them, at Sea World in San Diego. The article was prefaced by a note signed by the editors. The note read:

Editors’ Note: Counterpunches can be landed in a variety of ways. In November 2006, Kasatka, the Sea World Orca, attempted to drown her trainer. Yesterday, it was Tilikum’s turn—killing his aquarium trainer. This fall, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance, will be published by AK Press/CounterPunch Books. Below is a poignant excerpt from the book, which details the decades long struggle of two notable orcas: Nootka and Tilikum.


A day later the website ran an excerpt from Hribal’s then-forthcoming book recounting the story at greater length. On February 27 I wrote to Alex Cockburn, editor of Counterpunch. Since the book has now appeared in print, I thought it appropriate to post my letter.

Dear Alex,

It is one thing to advocate humane treatment of animals as part of what makes us more fully human, another to attribute to animals a subjectivity they do not possess and to elevate “Tilikum” (a name given the animal not by its mother but by human beings) to a place in history alongside Spartacus and Frederick Douglass. The notion of animal resistance, and the talk of “animal rights” (aside from the general problems with the “rights” discourse), misses the point of what makes the human race unique. (Do animals extend rights to people?) As a now-unfashionable German sage put it, “Man is a species-being, not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species (his own as well as those of other things) as his object, but–and this is only another way of expressing it–also because he treats himself as the actual, living species; because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being.” “What distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality… He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realizes a purpose of his own…” When the orca eats up all the seals in its hunting grounds, it dies out or moves on; man undertakes to cultivate new foods. Some people, including, I suspect, your columnist Hribal, may label such behavior “colonialism” and Marx a “species-ist,” but it is the impulse to not merely graze on the earth but to transform it and in the process transform ourselves that drives man to build the temple at Baalbek, write Paradise Lost and compose “A Love Supreme,” which no orca will ever do.

Best wishes, Noel


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