A candid photo, taken by Anthony many years ago when he, his partner, his cats, his ferrets, his guinea pigs, and I all shared an apartment.
Gail Collins’ most recent column, which miraculously does not mention Mitt Romney’s dog or his trip to Canada strapped to the roof of the Romney family car, takes as its starting point the claim that JPMorgan Chase’s huge trading loss stemmed from the fact that the risk manager person had Lyme disease. This leads to meditations on ticks and exploding deer populations, and it includes one line that I found positively inspiring: “it’s a nice change of pace to be able to put the blame for bad developments on simple-minded critters who have no idea that there’s anything in the world outside their own need to feed and reproduce. Like deer. Or ticks. Or Donald Trump.”
Someone absolutely needs to write a description of the Umwelt of various unsavory characters, modelled on Uexküll’s description of the tick’s impoverished Umwelt. Perhaps we would learn that the real problem was that the JPMorgan Chase traders were “poor in world.”
Whenever people discuss issues like vegetarianism, my tendency is always to think in terms of how one could systematize or universalize it. For instance, granted that veganism is the most desirable diet (due to environmental sustainability, ethical concerns, better health, or whatever other reason), what would it look like if we made it mandatory and redesigned the entire food production system around it?
The first question I have is what ideas people have put forth in terms of “winding down” animal domestication. For instance, there are some breeds of various domesticated animals that simply cannot survive in the wild — they’re bred to produce the maximum amount of meat or milk and they can’t do much else. Would they be subject to further breeding or genetic modification to make them viable in the wild, would that breed be allowed to die out, or what other solution would there be? Similarly, would it be a realistic goal for all of these breeds of animals to return to their pre-human forms and live in the wild, or would we instead be obligated to continue caring for them insofar as we in a certain way “created” them in their current form?
Many readers know much more about these topics and debates than me — what are the basic proposals out there, if any? Do any seem to you to be more workable, desirable, etc.?
In the academic circles I run in, there tends to be a high degree of concern with animals, which leads either to vegetarianism, veganism, or a preference for organic, free-range, etc., types of meat. One is often willing to pay a premium for products that result from more ethically acceptable production processes.
It’s curious to me, then, that there is no similar movement toward “cruelty-free” clothing. Read the rest of this entry »
First, just a “thanks” to aufs for hosting the livestream of our divinanimality conference at Drew this past weekend. While the event is still fresh, I also thought I might pose a couple of questions that began to gestate over the course of this four day conference. My ears are selectively attentive. So whatever I report will (naturally) be told a bit slant. But, nonetheless, I’m interested in broad questions, about how religious studies and theology might infect/intersect with the ever-expanding storehouse of scholarship in animal studies.
Of course there were theological questions, calling attention to the sticky relations between creatures, creators, creations. But I think one of the most fruitful conversations—one that kept coming up over the course of the weekend—was the ontological distinction between the “animal” and the “creaturely.” While the conference intended to foreground the challenges that animals and divinities pose to humanist orthodoxies, many pointed to the “creaturely” as a plane of engagement that seems to do something different. I’ve actually given a lot of thought to this question (and have a forthcoming piece about it, in the volume resulting from the “Metaphysics & Things” conference at the Claremont Graduate University last December). But it was interesting to hear this conversation broadening. Kate Rigby suggested that the creaturely is a more “democratic” conceptual space—inclusive of both humans and animals, as well as plants, monsters. Perhaps even machines. This space isn’t unlike that given to “actors” in Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, Alfred North Whitehead’s “actual entities” or even OOO’s objects. But, of course, the creaturely has a theological genealogy. Which makes it easier to explore this concept in the field of religious ideas. In spite of the generic, egalitarian potential of the creaturely, however, Read the rest of this entry »
When I was in seminary, there were several students who were interested in questions of animal rights. Such an interest is surely to be expected in the extremely liberal environs of Chicago Theological Seminary. More noteworthy to me, however, was the reaction from the black students whenever another (invariably white) student brought up animal rights. They rejected such concerns while so much work remained to be done to combat the mistreatment of other human beings and suspected that some students had embraced animal rights as a way of “skipping over” those concerns.
That is certainly unfair as a general statement about animal rights activism. At the same time, things like the PETA porn site make one wonder.
Alain Badiou is always a pleasure a read even if, like me, one isn’t convinced by or a disciple of his philosophy. The first full book in French I read was Badiou’s Manifeste pour la philosophie, which was in many ways a short summary of Being and Event. He has repeated this gesture with his (recently translated) Second Manifesto for Philosophy, which is a summary of the main ideas present in Logics of Worlds: Being and Event II. LoW contains an interesting development of his theory of fidelity, which most readers will be familiar with from his St Paul: The Foundation of Universalism where St. Paul is an instance of one being faithful to an event. Another way of saying this is that St. Paul, like all faithful subjects, “lived a life worthy of the Idea”. In LoW he expands this to a general theory of “subjectivation” or different relational decisions regarding an event are different ways of being a subject. So in addition to a faithful subject, there is also a reactionary subject (who rejects the event) and an obscure subject (who tries to turn the event, founded on the void, into some transcendent body like the Nation, or God, or Race, or Nature, or what have you). I was really taken with this and so Daniel Whistler and me used it in our editorial introduction to After the Postsecular and the Postmodern (Amazon: US, UK; Book Depository) when writing about the different ways theologians, theorists, and philosophers related to the post-secular event. Read the rest of this entry »
I am increasingly startled by the confidence with which thinkers describe the thought process of animals. It appears that all one needs to know is what distinguishes humans from animals, then subtract that aspect in order to arrive at a model of the animal mind. Once we know what the animal mind is like, we can show how different it is from the human mind. Then concrete examples can be used: for instance, animals seldom get caught in tautologies — that is man’s unique privilege.
It does seem likely to me that there are qualitative degrees of intelligence, consciousness, or whatever you want to call it. I just do not see the reason for assuming that human beings stand absolutely alone on this side of whatever qualitative leap came last. Are we really willing to say that a dog’s mental life is closer to that of an ant than that of a human being? Is it possible that “lower” forms of life have in fact suffered from the short-circuit of self-consciousness without having the brain capacity to put it to the same range of uses as we do? Indeed, what if it isn’t even our brain capacity so much as the particular form of our bodies that enables us to make such exemplary use of consciousness? What if consciousness, as it were, “called for” the human body — flexible enough to be able to assume a variety of forms of life, weak enough to require both tools and social structures?
(I’m not proposing to answer these questions, of course.)
In a previous controversial post, I attempted to bring together Zizek’s thoughts on cognitive science and on quantum physics to devise a “unified field theory” of human freedom. I failed in this attempt because I did not specify the mechanism by which the “subject” (a purely formal factor that is the “fallout” when the faculty that maps the organism’s surroundings becomes self-referential) is able to “choose its own causes.”
The answer is simple: through the negative gesture of refusing to pay attention to something, which opens up the space for paying attention to something else (i.e., “choosing” it as the relevant external factor that will determine future action). In the “normal” case, which we can for convenience call an “animal,” the inputs from the Umwelt create automatic reactions — for instance, Uexkuell’s famous tick, which can only respond to a very limited number of stimuli. In the “human” case, “consciousness” has reached a very fine-grained level that allows for responses to an indefinite number of stimuli, and “self-consciousness” provides some minimal space between perception and reaction.
I’m fine with saying that most of the time, human beings do act more or less automatically and that consciousness provides us with rationalizations in order to maintain equilibrium. Sometimes, though, at what can only be called an unconscious level, the human subject breaks with “instinctual” causality, aka the pleasure principle, by ignoring certain “causes” and attaching to others. This phenomenon is what goes by the name of “death drive” in Lacanian psychoanalysis. It loses the element of conscious deliberation that many people want from free will, but it seems to be the only way to talk about an action being self-caused as opposed to being externally caused. That is, it provides a non-reductionistic account of human agency, and you now how big I am on non-reductionism!
(By calling the two different models “animal” and “human,” I’m not meaning to reinforce the traditional boundary between the two — it seems possible to me that certain other animal species have reached the short-circuit level that I’m calling the “human,” and not even necessarily only primate species.)