Sunday, January 16, 2011

Decolonization and Animal Liberation: Love, Violence, Becoming-Other-Wise

Beehive Design Collective. "FTAA." Source:
Some cyber-friends have been pestering me to put up another blog post since I haven't posted anything in three months--well, maybe that's an exaggeration but i really wanted to use the word pestering--, so  I'm posting two abstracts I recently submitted to the Thinking About Animals conference at Brock University (St. Catharines, ON, Canada) going on between March 1 and April 1, 2011. This will be the 10th Critical Animal Studies conference, and Brock is perhaps one of the most deserving universities since its establishment of a critical animal studies minor and an official vegan policy in the Sociology department.

On that note, I encourage you to check out the Critical Animal Studies resource page I created over winter break!!!

The first paper, on Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, is a paper I wrote for Existentialism in the Fall. I went through some angst writing it, but came out overall satisfied with the paper. If any of you are interested in reading it, I'll send you a copy in exchange for some good feedback. The second paper ought to be more familiar to avid readers of this blog. It's basically a summation of what I have written on the understanding of veganism over the last two years or more.

Decolonization and Animal Liberation:
Violence and Becoming-Animal in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth
In 1961, the Algerian psychoanalysist, Frantz Fanon, published, Les Damnés de la Terre, a book specifically about the revolutionary movement in French Algeria, but a guide to decolonization in general. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon gives a phenomenological account of the Algerian independence movement, from its inception in local, spontaneous violent uprisings, to a national political movement, to the development of a national culture and new humanism. For Fanon and his friend Sartre, violence is a necessity for the colonized to become fully human and political subjects. Similarly, the development of a national culture is necessary development for not only the liberation of Algeria, but for the future of humanity.

While Fanon’s primary goals are the achievement of national consciousness and a new humanism, a subversive reading of this text foregrounds “the animal” that beseeches his description of decolonization. Fanon’s characterization of the relationship between decolonization and animals is complex: on the one hand, animal being is to be transcended, if not negated through self-assertion and violence, yet the animal virtues of spontaneity, ferocity, and pack-forming are crucial for the overthrow of the colonizers. If humans’ metaphoric relationship to “animality” and animal others materialize in their relationship with one another, as is argued, then decolonization will not be achieved so long as a hierarchical and exclusionary identity politics exists between human and animal others (as is inferred by Fanon and Sartre’s subject-centered humanist discourse). It is argued that the anarchistic process of “becoming-animal” described by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri is a more transformative and promising alternative to humanism for not only human liberation, but also the liberation from humanist violence against “animality” and animal others.

Deconstructing Veganism:
Love, Listening, Conversations, and Companionships Beyond Boundaries
For over a decade, Gary Francione (1996, 2008) has been championed for his bold challenge to the efficacy of “new welfarism” and the sufficiency of lacto-ovo-vegetarian advocacy in the contemporary “animal rights” movements. Yet relatively few animal abolitionists have ever challenged the sufficiency and status quo of veganism. In a time when neoliberalism has come into a greater appropriation of veganism (Hammer 2008), real animals have become absent from the discourse of many animal and vegan advocacy campaigns (Adams 2006), and to be a vegan is more about one’s way of life (i.e. the subculture one belongs to) than one’s actual relationship to animals, a more radical critique of not only vegetarianism but veganism too is needed.

While many celebrate the mainstreaming of veganism, I would like to caution self-identified vegans and animal activists from accepting the present understanding of vegan as an identity of (abstention from) consumption. The present understanding of veganism as a) an identity b) defined negatively as an abstention from c) consumption has lead to a certain modality of political and private life which has been legitimately accused of self-righteousness, identity politics, militancy, colonialism, and privileged consumerism. In light of this, we are called to a radical rethinking of veganism not as a noun (“ vegan”) to be identified with, purchased, consumed, and completed, but as a modality and relationship with others that is never yet complete.

Veganism is something to be understood affirmatively, as an affirmation of our own feelings and the voices of others. Those who have come into veganism as a liberation project must adamantly recall that they did not do so because of convenience, out of tradition, or merely out of pleasure, but because they are in search of affirming love. This love must never be forgotten as their point of departure and arrival. The ends of veganism are in the means of not forgetting, disavowing others. It is through disavowal that people commit the most violence by ignoring their own and others’ sentiments; they wage war on themselves and others for foreclosing ends, ideals, and identities, rather than waging conversation. The end of veganism is thus not to become a vegan, but to become other-wise in conversations and companionships beyond boundaries and “language.”

Re-Understanding Veganism: A Brief History

I must acknowledge Ida Hammer for giving me the initial challenge and inspiration to reunderstand veganism as something other than the (abstention of) consumption of food [7/'08]. Of course, all this has followed from creating HEALTH at my undergraduate school [4/'05], writing my honors thesis on it [5/'07], creating this blog [9/'08], and distinguishing it from health in my Skinny Bitch post [4/'09].

At first, I formulated veganism as part of social justice work rather than a politics of purity (i.e. cruelty-free, body-as-a-temple), pragmatism (i.e. health, environment, animal welfare), or political protest (i.e. boycott) [12/'08]. Later, I came to stress that veganism was unique form of intersectional and interspecies social justice [9/'09] . Then, I came to appreciate a weaker moral language, and conjured up alternative ways of articulating ethical relations with animal and earth others . [6/'10]. Next, I challenged the rhetoric of reciprocity in human-animal relation literature and suggested that veganism is a modality (i.e. an affirmative, enriching, and transformative conversation) rather than a stable identity and self-certain relation to animal others [8/'10]. Finally, in my last post, "Veganism, Love, and Forgiveness," I did somewhat of a phenomenology of veganism as arising out of an affirmation of love and listening (the origins, means, and ends of veganism) [10/'10].

Hope you enjoy. And please leave any comments and feedback if you are feeling generous. They are always appreciated. :)


Anonymous said...

Both abstracts sound cool, can't wait to see the presentations in March... regarding #2, not sure if you've read him but British sociologist Matthew Cole has done some stuff on the unfortunate tendency, even (perhaps especially) within social scientific literature, to define veganism as a form of asceticism. worth a look if you're critiquing understandings of veganism that centre around self-denial or restriction.

Luella said...

Your use of the word "pragmatism" caught my eye, since I am currently reading a book called "Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals" by Saul Alinsky. It's a very interesting and compelling read, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it. Alinsky is "generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing."

"Veganism is something to be understood affirmatively, as an affirmation of our own feelings and the voices of others."

Replace "veganism" with "love" above. That is why I advocate affirmations of love to yourself and others. There are two kinds of love: compassion (for suffering) and loving kindness (for joy). Together they are more powerful. Compassion alone can turn into a negating asceticism that forgets the power and beauty of joy.

This affirmation is something active, an act of creation, not a passive act of consumption. It is not passively consuming love that nature gave us, but actively creating and being that love. Loving oneself is a choice, a refusal to deny what our soul is crying out for, a choice to listen to our own soul telling us we want to be loved, and who can we truly choose to give ourselves that love but ourselves? Did I mention it's a form of self-giving? When you listen closely to your heart's desires, make a habit of it, you give up some of the time and energy spent listening too closely to your fears.

If veganism be an active form of giving, rather than merely a taking (of, as you say, ends, identity, our own nourishment to the exclusion of others'), we must continually ask, "What exactly are we giving? Where exactly are we going?" rather than just what are we going away from (abstaining our own selves from further action through escapism... escaping from having to think further and really engage the issues at hand). What exactly are we affirming?

Oh, and I like your idea about waging conversation as opposed to ideals. What are we affirming within the realm of conversation, if love is a conversation, a listening?

On the matter of self-love, love is also a conversation with oneself, a give and take. "I will give up these unrealistic expectations of myself and others in exchange for... oh, I dunno... happiness!" I will listen to my soul and then I will speak - *self's words magically align with soul's*. :P

Luella said...

I think "affirmation" itself is communication/conversation - it's saying "I affirm you, I love you" in exchange for our response to ourself and the universe: joy! :) That's our soul's language. :D You gotta speak within your people's language, says Alinsky.

Adamas said...

Thank you so much for tipping me to Matthew Cole's paper "Asceticism and hedonism in research discourses of veg*anism"!!! I'm definitely going to include a discussion of this and maybe Rozin's "Moralization and Becoming a Vegetarian". Do I know you?

Wow, I'm enamored by your comment! I'm intrigued by the suffering-oriented and joy-oriented love. I also like the idea of love as self-giving (giving oneself over to others but also oneself). Are you suggesting that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear? That's pretty profound.

I also like this idea of continually questioning/thinking. It seems clear that veganism is always active as a liberation project because it is almost always a response to the everyday/mainstream, to be other-wise (really like this word). However, most political vegans frame this as a negation and battle against oppression rather than an affirmation of feeling and love(or so it seems). It is a different type of withdraw: one away from "oppression" and towards ideology and identity, an (dead) end.

I don't however, agree with you that love is a choice. I don't believe humans have that much agency. Instead, I've been thinking about awareness/mindfulness of love. That people have forgotten how to love or forget that they are not loving. One does not choose to love or choose not to love, so much as one is either being-toward love or fleeing in the face of love, which goes back to how we respond to our innermost angst. We must undergo training in philosophy, in wonder and curiosity, to learn to be children again without leaving behind the transcendence from narcissism.

Veganism as an affirmative love and not a negating and forgetting is indeed a creative activity. It is a transcendence within the flesh to feel oneself-with-others.