As I previously mentioned, most of my blogging over the last year has been on Facebook. I do not have the time to write as masterful posts with extensive and precise citations as before, so I cannot promise future posts will be as organized and nuanced as previous ones. That said, although I have not done so in the past here, future posts like this one will be in response to either a provocative blog entry elsewhere on the web or several related news stories. If we are both so lucky, these posts will probably be shorter reads. Well, we'll see!
Insturmentalism: the Logos of Animal Capital
Anastasia @ Animal Visions, a highly welcomed blog that just hit the cyber-scene, writes in "What’s the deal with animal use?":
From an ecofeminist and indigenous perspective, use of another living being is not inherently bad; in fact, it’s necessary for survival. The use becomes a major problem when it’s one-sided. That is, living beings in the ecosystem are made... into resources in order to serve one species, and members of that species do not give back in response to what they have received. ... What’s missing in this scenario is reciprocity, which is also missing in our conceptualization of exploitation... The act of “use” wouldn’t be a problem because everyone would be used, and the use would simply be an act of life, a way of participating in the biosphere. Alas, as it stands, we do not. Our global civilization exploits many and holds no values for giving back...I really like this and is kind of what I've been thinking about for several years and why I share Donna Haraway's (2007) criticism of abolitionist views that always cast nonhuman animals as victims, ignoring their agency and affect upon humans. Animal rightists have overlooked that their positioning of nonhuman animals as "voiceless", "defenseless," and "helpless" have only re-instituted their passivity, having presupposed a human-reason-agent vs nonhuman-passive dualism. Writers like Haraway, but especially James Hribal (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010), have repositioned animals not as slaves, a la Marjorie Speigel's Dreaded Comparison (1996), but as "the working class." Reconfigurations of animals as fellow agents on the one hand may affirm their subjectivity and role in society, while on the other risks reinstating their oppression on new terms (as I will argue against reciprocity being a sufficient condition for ethical relations).
Do animal liberation proponents really want to abolish all forms of animal use, thereby disregarding our interdependence in the biosphere and severing any possibility for us to give unto other animals and to be open to our use in return? This animal liberation proponent certainly doesn’t.
The domination of animal others, as Anastasia writes in another post, is not because of use, but from out of the objectification and the uni-directional instrumentalization found in their commodificaiton. Animal exploitation will certainly not cease until, not only animals but all life is recognized as non-commodities:
From an animal liberation perspective, veganism is the most basic tactic in boycotting[*] industry that oppresses animals... even if veganism could lessen the extent of animal commodification, the process of commodification would still exist and continue to bring ruin to indigenous peoples, poor laborers, and the natural world. I, for one, don’t think that animal commodification can end without commodification as a whole dissipating. And veganism will not bring the end to commodification.The problem is not use in general, but commdification itself. Commodification need not only stop with sentient beings as animal rightists like Joan Dunayer (2001) have insisted. Accordingly, nonsentient animals should not be classified as animals because they have more in common with plants, which according to her are nonsentient and thus lack moral standing. Yet, this is only a replication of the very exclusionary identity game that continually held back slaves, women, animals, and others from achieving recognition as something other than property. We ought not forget that the reduction of plants to "mere things," instrumental units of exchange perpetuates the logic of domination, which does not only conceptual and material violence, but, in the case of the private ownership of food, creates world hunger.
Commodification has misfit relatives which ought not to be overlooked. Instrumentalism, utilitarianism, and capitalism all set a price on all other beings, commodifies them, transforming them into standing reserves of financial capital and nutrient assemblages. This is the technological way of thinking Heidegger (1954) critiques in "The Question Concerning Technology" where he compares industrial agriculture to the Holocaust (a douchebag move being that he was a Nazi):
Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombsThe Frankfurt school calls this type of thinking instrumental reasoning, which has devoured all other kinds of thinking in a capitalist society.
Anastasia seems to suggest that here is no reciprocity in the vast majority of human-animal relations in modern cultures; it is a one way relationship, one in which the privileged subject has an entitlement to the life and labor of others. What I think Anastasia wants to get at is more like communicative rationality, which Jurgen Habermas juxtaposes to means-ends thinking, in which one makes the other's (with one's owns) interests the ends of action through the act of communication. But communicative action, as of now, seems almost impossible with all but signing apes, because of the necessity of a common language to communicate ideas. At the very least, it is imaginable having reciprocal intentions with animal others; that is, the mutual recognition that the other is an intentional subject. If this is the case, reciprocity, albeit not the rational kind, may promise an escape for animal others from the reductionist and fatal status of property.
Reciprocity: The Logic of Domination?
rec·i·proc·i·ty: A mutual or cooperative interchange of favors or privileges, especially the exchange of rights or privileges of trade between nations
Where I disagree with Anastasia, is that I don't think reciprocity is sufficient. Exploitation can still exist within more reciprocal relations, because asymmetries and hierarchies can. Think about traditional marriages in which the husband is the breadwinner and the wife a house-maker. Commonly, such relationships are still exploitative or oppressive, though reciprocal and complimentary. Such a tit-for-tat contractualist reciprocity where individuals come together in their mutual interests has historically been used to exclude animal others.
Many political philosophers, such as Martha Nussbaum (2006), have concluded that popular conceptions of reciprocity as held in social contractualism are inadequate for providing protection for people with disabilities, of foreign countries, and nonhuman animals. However, more recently the (pre)historical revisionism of domestication has claimed a "covenant of the wild" between humans and nonhuman species that takes into account not individuals but collectives. According to such revisionists, Callicott (1989), Budiansky (1999), Pollan (2002), and Haraway (2003; 2008), nonhuman animals chose their domestication, trading their freedom and long life for goods such as security from starvation, healthcare, and protection form predators. Moreover, without their exploitation and death, humans would have no reason to breed them, and thus animals have an interest in being used for food because otherwise they would have had not even a decent life to live (assuming they'd live pleasant lives).
Clare Palmer (1997), has been one of the few theorists to thoroughly challenge what might be described as a "Killing contract" between humans nonhuman animals. Palmer gives three reasons to reject such thinking:
First, the domesticated animal contract... is not made by free and equal individuals who understand the nature of the agreement; it is dependent on controversial ideas of tacit or hypothetical consent and it is irrevocable... Second, the use of inappropriate contract language, in implying free consent, legitimates a relationship of increasing domination and control which now includes not only the labour and lives of domesticated animals but also their genetic fabric. Third, it can be argued that social contract theory in general uses the fiction of free consent to justify relationships of dominance and subordination...Contractualist reciprocity with animal others is flawed because it is never between free, informed equals, and does not permit individuals to leave it, because they have been bred and their environment has been destroyed in such a way that they're trapped in dependency. In fact, as Nussbaum and many other feminists have raised, contractualism in this ideal form has not ever really existed, but has been convenient to overlook sexism and racism.
Nel Noddings (1984) and other feminists have written that if reciprocity is to be a moral virtue it must not be of the contractualist, enlightened self-interest kind based on mutuality as such. Rather, reciprocity comes in the response from the cared-for to the care-giving, which enables further care-giving. Yet, despite the evidence in at least dogs (especially therapeutic ones) and other mammals, Noddings rejects that animals can reciprocate the care, assuming that they do not recognize the care as such. The only basis for animal ethics is aesthetic experience, which is a private perceptive rather than a public judgment--one has no justification for judging another for supporting animal exploitation.
Anarchist Peter Gelderloss in his "Veganism is a consumer activity" shares Nodding's sentiments (or lack thereof) on the moral implications of non-reciprocal nature of human-animal relations:
I could kill a bird or a fish to eat, and I have, because I do not think they are capable of recognizing me or any other individual, and therefore I cannot form an emotional relationship with them that is not narcissistic or one-sided. I also think that hunting a wild animal for food is respectful and emotionally healthy.Besides being utterly confused how hunting a "wild animal" is "emotionally healthy," whatever that means, it escapes me how this hunting is any less one-sided and narcissistic than loving a non-reciprocating animal. As Marti Kheel (1995) argues, the holy hunter motif of hunting as something that is good and honors the animals is rooted in the socialization of males whom can only become "men" to the extent they define themselves against (m)others.** The "need" to "reconnect" assumes one is already disconnected and that only a return to a mystical originary practice can drive out the "madness" of modernity to restore one's "emotional health" at the expense of others'. The privilege of killing animals for food and spiritual elevation is an implicit valuation of the historical masculine ideal of violence (as emblemized by Theodore Roosevelt) over sentiment (as emphasized by Rachel Carson (1962)).
The appeal to an original "state of nature" or privileging the perspectives of "indigenous" people is a popular one amongst environmentalists, even with the difficulties of clumping thousands of cultures' perspectives on human-animal relations into one category. The appeal to indigenous cultures possessing a truer truth than modern cultures is often based on the idea that they are less alienated from the land. Regardless, one ought not to forget that their truth is historical and their narratives of human-animal relations are embedded in their interpretation of material conditions such as the necessity to kill to survive.
According to James Serpell (1996), narratives of animals consenting to be eaten, or who's death was to be demanded by an external deity, developed out of a psychological human need to relieve oneself of guilt:
Unconsciously or deliberately we either avoid befriending the animals we intend to harm, or we fabricate elaborate and often mythological justifications for their suffering that absolves us of blame… The truth is that it is normal and natural for people to empathize and identify with other life forms, and to feel guilt and remorse about harming them.Other scholars, like infamous Calvin Martin (1982) and Tom Regan (1982), have suggested, stories about animals giving themselves to humans may have been pragmatic appeals for the sustainable management of game, for if one were to kill an animal without prayer, appreciation, and with waste, the animals would not return and the people would starve. Controversy over Amerindian ethics aside, white romantics often appeal to this "noble savage" figuration of indigenous people--a racist and colonialist representation of hundreds of cultures--as if it were a timeless truth. Living in a different socio-historical context--one with greater numbers of people, (general) ecological understanding, less dependence on place, and more diverse moral theory--I no longer think such narrative serve quite the purpose and meaning they once did.
At the very least, attempts to "reverse" moral theory by "returning" to a privileged origin of someone else, is a shaky conclusion. Much of the appeal is buttressed by the Judeo-Christian creation story in which, in a popular interpretation, humans are said to have "fallen" by disobeying God, and had consequentially been kicked out of Eden. Appropriating Amerindian beliefs, beings a "part-time Indian," by representing them and appealing to them as noble savages closer to a "state of nature" is ethnocentric and unjust. More so, it is a cowardly escape from Western responsibility toward animal others by taking refuge in other cultural traditions to justify one's blood lust that has come out of a different one.
Just as we should not appeal to a fallen past, neither ought we appeal to an inarticulable world-making relation to animals in which they become exploited "workers" in a human drama. Donna Haraway likes to position animal others as co-workers in a co-evolving drama of which we know of no end other than co-flourishing. In so doing, she equivocates between animal others as participants (in which they enter into relations with us and have a mutual interest in the outcome) and as play-things (in which they are independent beings who ultimately may be sacrificed for an enriching human experience or the curiosity of an interesting future). There is no sufficient reason for justifying animal experimentation, biotechnology, and eugenic breeding. Still, one ought to share the suffering of animal others, not out of guilt or innocence, but simply to show reciprocity. One's primary moral responsibility is curiosity, which I agree is essential to ethics, but it is not sufficient given her position on killing animals. While there is no class of killable beings, one is apparently made killable, even one's co-worker, for curiosity. In Haraway's case, curiosity does kill the cat... but the cat can't reciprocate the favor.
Even if we follow Hribal's positioning of animals as part of the working class, animals gain no additional agency other than rhetorical flowering. Tom Chisholm has levied substantial criticisms of the figuration of animals as working class. In his response to Hribal, he argues that without the ability to engage in communicative action with humans and thus share solidarity with humans as a class, the use of class is merely rhetoric: "how can we ever forge class solidarity with animals when we are cognitively incapable of knowing with any meaningful precision what animals’ own, in Dr. Hribal’s words, “wants, needs, concerns” are?" Second, it is unclear what identifying animals as a working class accomplishes since they rely on humans to speak for them politically, which is always already an interpretation, not self-representation. Hribal thus does not resolve the "paternalism" of his predecessors, Singer et al. Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, Chisholm argues that the
"reduction of animals as workers [is] yet another conceptual trickery of white man’s (social) science, an attempt to enclose animals and their respectively irreducible animalness in a political and discursive cage of “civilization” (i.e., language of class) that the indigenous peoples and their spiritual traditions around the world have resisted for millennia.Bob Torres (2006) also questions the usefulness of describing all animal relations in the rhetoric of workers, acknowledging that in certain cases, animals are significantly less free and might as well be considered slaves. The class of animals, however, is besides the point if we are to take to heart the Chisholm makes: perhaps we should not be assigning animals a class at all. Perhaps animals should neither be commodities, co-signers, nor co-workers. Perhaps, following Georgio Agamben (2003), we should simply let them be.
Conclusion: And So the Vegan Responds (what a wor(l)d)!
In conclusion, the romantic dialectic of reciprocity often ends up justifying the very things we wish to end through it--domination. We must always be vigilant as to how we represent our relationship with animal others, although, such representations will always be interpretations. Terms like consent, exploitation, oppression, and rights are useful tool, but I don't think they actually apply to human-animal relations in general. We need new ones, however hard it may be to conceive of them. When dealing with those who speak a language we do not understand, we border on colonialism whenever we attempt to slap a title on our relations, to classify it as this or that. Such attempts become ridiculous when we think we can conceptualize our relations with Animals as such, as if there were such a thing. As Jacques Derrida (1997) woes, "the Animal, what a word!"
The distinction between the plurality of human-animal relations in place of one monolithic label (i.e. slaves, workers, etc) is most important, especially in light of how certain thinkers appropriate rhetoric to justify animal exploitation, whether it be Aristotle's claims that animals are natural subordinates, Locke's claim that (domestic) animals are property, or postmodern claims, like Haraway's, that animals are "workers." We ought not think of animals as helpless victims (in general), as beings on an equal playing field, nor as gifts to human flourishing lest we wish to return to the Killing Contract that has plagued animal others for (at least) the last several thousands of years. More so than reciprocity we may need response-ability and hospitality. These forms of generosity put us at risk of being taken advantage, however, as privileged subjects, the marginal losses we might suffer are inconsequential compared to the potential advantages the marginalized may gain.
So what of animal liberation, of veganism? Does not identity and certainty tame both, incarcerating them, just as heterogenities of animals have been corralled by the general singular? Where do we go from here?
I’d like to move away from a metaphysical, ahistorical veganism of identity, non-violence, innocence, purity, and savior narratives toward a more conversational, relational, contextual, and responsive version. Veganism is not something one does alone, but always with and amongst others. Veganism, then, is not private act of purity and protest about consumption (or the abstaining of consumption), or about identity, but about relationships, about affiliation and solidarity. Veganism is a creative, enriching conversation, an affirmation of others, and a promise to do as little violence as is fair. Veganism as intersectional social justice can only begin with listening and can never end in identity.
[*] End Notes: The Commodification of Veganism
We ought not think of veganism as a boycott if we are going to undermine commoditization, which Anastasia would probably agree with. Gelderloss's anarchist critique of veganism has been that it is seen as a consumer activity: "Vegans have spread the lie that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and suppressed the truth that you can’t be a capitalist environmentalist." The weight of this critique can be levied by leaving behind the market discourse of boycott. As Ida @ The Vegan Ideal responds: "when a vegan abnegates the products of exploitation, they are giving up privilege, as opposed to engaging in a "boycott."
Since Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975), there has been a neoliberal appropriation of the vegan movement whereby the political discourse and strategies are founded on (social, political, and especially financial) markets. Particularly insidious, are the sister slogans "voting with your dollars" and "consumer choice" that equivocate the public sphere of democracy with the private sphere of the market where people have even less choice, especially those with the least money, and it is them whom are scapegoated for not taking "personal responsibility." Veganism, then, becomes an identity to buy into, a culture of commodities, which Anastasia fears because it places more emphasis on human experience than the political needs of animal others:
Veganism is becoming more and more a subculture to pre-existing subcultures or scenes (i.e. straight-edge punk, anarchist, afrocentric—to name a few). As a result, the emphasis in veganism as a whole has been to focus on the lives and identities of these self-proclaimed vegans... vegan proponents have become so involved in identity politics to the point where the ultimate concern is being vegan. We’re at the point where you can talk about veganism and make no mention of animals or being animal at all. Veganism in the United States has successfully booted nonhuman animals out of the picture and once again focused majority of our attention on human experience.This privileging of human lifestyle can be seen most of all in media like Veg News, which on the one hand is an excellent magazine that creates a common community for many vegans, yet, on the other has fabricated a consumer and identity-driven movement.
As with the "voting with your dollar" slogan, the presence of animals form the center of animal rights and vegetarian discourse has increasingly become displaced by ironic, erotic, and pop-cultural images. In an interview, "An Animal Manifesto," Carol Adams (2006), describes this phenomenon in the case of PETA:
[PETA is] trying to work with what there is, cultural consumption, by manipulating cultural images/issues. They are trying to get people to talk about veganism without having to address what has disappeared... One of the results when the cultural becomes the referent, is not only that we forget we are animal beings, but we are allowed to forget that other animals are animal beings, too!Veganism is a lived revolutionary theory, neither simply a tactic nor a label, property (of identity). By de-centering the exploitative relationship between human and other animals, the significance of veganism becomes absent. As long as the colonized are shrouded in the shadow of cultural representations and motifs, their calls will be forgotten.
The vegan movement itself risks falling into the hollow, self-righteous/centered discourse of the holy hunters
by playing into another identity politics of the cult of the "cruelty-free." Anastasia writes in "The Animal in Veganism (Part 1)" of her dismay that veganism has been appropriated as a fashionable eating performance, one in which the vegan experience has overshadowed by animal exploitation: "Veganism in the United States has successfully booted nonhuman animals out of the picture and once again focused majority of our attention on human experience." Indeed, by forgetting the actual material relations with animals, the relationship, as with the holy hunters becomes a morally symbolic (wholeness) with deviant material consequences (killing). So to does the emphasis on vegan lifestyle forget the struggle for animal others, to have people become complicit in the so-called "moral baseline" of veganism without any public action than the performance of one's identity (in addition to sneering down at those who are incapable of vegetarianism for health, class, or geographic reasons).