Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why So Many Human Rights Advocates are into Vegetarianism and Veganism: Or, Fascism and Veganism, an only kinda complicated history.

Even worse was that all societies formed for the protection of the Rights of Man, all attempts to arrive at a new bill of human rights were sponsored by marginal figures-- by a few international jurists without political experience or professional philanthropists supported by uncertain sentiments of professional idealists. The groups they formed, the declarations they issued, showed an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. No statesman, no political figure of any importance could possibly take them seriously. --Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 292. 

There is a Vice article going around. One I hesitate to link to, because it is so obviously clickbait. Meant to both troll those who are vegans and vegetarians, while also causing us who are to defend ourselves against it, and share it again. These kinds of articles are frequent for this very reason. And it remains one of the reasons your vegan and vegetarian friends are, perhaps, a little touchy (remember).  But here's a link anyway. The Vice article, written by Alexis de Coning, argues that there is a strange history of white supremacists being vegan or vegetarian. To which I say, that's true, sometimes. She also ends by arguing, "To combat these racist movements, we must understand them, including how they can incorporate beliefs we usually associate with liberal or leftist politics. The diversity of this movement should not be underestimated." To which I fully agree. However, the history here is far more complicated than de Coning presents in this article, and certainly more so than the clickbaity title and blurb.

Let's begin with what should we even do if it turns out that vegetarianism and veganism are central to fascism. As Derrida responded to such a claim in For What Tomorrow...:
The caricature of an indictment goes more or less like this: "Oh, you're forgetting that the Nazis, and Hitler in particular, were in a way zoophiles! So loving animal animals means hating or humiliating humans! Compassion for animals doesn't exclude Nazi cruelty; it's even its first symptom!" The argument strikes me as crudely fallacious. Who can take this parody of a syllogism seriously even for a second? And where would it lead us? To redouble our cruelty to animals in order to prove our irreproachable humanism? (68).
It does seem silly, as I put it once, to go punch an animal in the face to prove you love humanity. Perhaps this argument is only useful to combat the people who claim that veganism magically makes you into a saint. But I think anyone who has belonged to the community for a while knows that basically every kind of person can become vegans. Assholes, saints, misogynists, feminists, racist, humanists, etc. It is, almost certainly, interesting to see why different people are drawn to veganism. As I argued in my Dark Animal Studies paper (a title I wish I could change), the draw of veganism for many people is the promise of purity, for many ethical purity. Boria Sax famously argues that the obsession with animal protection laws and vegetarians among the Nazis was a way of reducing everything to the biological and the natural. After all, the Nazis outlawed the hunting of wolves even though there were no wild wolves left in Germany. Such an action is purely symbolic. But this explains why the Nazis were also supporters of environmentalism. They were invested in a movement of blood and soil, so animals and the environment were to be protected as an extension of the hypernaturalization of the Nazi world. And while there does continue to be some neo-nazis who advocate veganism, there is no real sense in the Vice article about how much of the White Supremacy movement today is promoting veganism. Is this a fringe within the fringe? There is no proof that this is centralized, or a major part of the right trying to co-opt liberal or leftist discourses. Furthermore, there is as much as history, if not more so, of Nazis supporting environmental issues, and still occasionally doing so, especially through discussions of population controls. And no one thinks that environmentalists need to really argue that environmentalism is not thoroughly Nazi ideology.  And while the headline talks about white supremacy, that is certainly overstating things. While there were some high profile members of the Nazi party who supported animal protections (including, arguably, Hitler himself), you don't see similar things going on with Italian, Japanese, or Spanish fascisms. And while you continue to see pro-animal support in Nazi inspired mysticism and occasionally neo-nazi movements, you don't see this as being a part of the rhetoric of, say, the KKK. This seems to be an issue with exactly one (horrifying) historical moment, rather than something connected to either fascism or white supremacy as a whole. And if that's how we are playing the game, then the pro-human rights people being pro-animal rights is far more common trope.

As the epigraph from Hannah Arendt attests to, this remains a long history between those fighting for human liberation, and those fighting for animal liberation. Gandhi, famously, became interested in anti-capitalist and anti-imperialism through his time spent eating at Vegetarian Society meetings (as Leela Gandhi explains in her book Affective Communities). Carol Adams reminds us that early feminism and vegetarianism were often put together.
We can follow the historic alliance of feminism and vegetarianism in Utopian writings and societies, antivivisection activism, the temperance and suffrage movements, and twentieth century pacifism. Hydropathic institutes in the nineteenth century, which featured vegetarian regimens, were frequented by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and others. At a vegetarian banquet in 1853, the gathered guests lifted their alcohol-free glasses to toast: "Total Abstinence, Women's Rights, and Vegetarianism."(156, but see all of Chapter Nine). 
Henry Bergh founded both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Toward Animals, and a similarly named organization to advocate on behalf of children. And I could name any number of other examples. Let me go google antifa and veganism. One second, stay around. Oh shit, Trevor Noah called antifa "vegan ISIS." I didn't even know that, but that's how much the movement is associated with veganism.

Look, the issue is not that veganism will magically make you against fascism and white supremacy. I wish it would. But there is a long history of people promoting human rights, and being opposed to fascism, who were also supporters of animal liberation. That is as much of our history as the Nazi stuff is. We do, of course, always need to be sure our veganism is intersectional, and opposed to these white supremacists. But the idea that there is something anti-human well-being at the heart of animal rights and environmentalism has got to end. As I have said before, the issue is that we all engage in partial sympathies. So rather than see sympathy as a fundamentally limited resource that decreases the more one uses it, we should see it as something that can be expanded, and become more powerful. The challenge still remains, what institutions, what practices,  and what aesthetics can we create to extend our partial sympathies. This is the task that remains to all of us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Isonomia Appendix and Introduction

As Marx tells us in the first volume of Capital, every beginning is difficult. And I've been having a devil of a time trying to figure out how to start us out with Kōjin Karatani's Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy (Duke 2017, originally Iwanami Shoten 2012). For one, Karatani is something of an ambitious generalist, writing bold (and underdeveloped and under backed up) claims about anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, and political economy and statecraft in ways that we don't see as much anymore. For me, I am constantly going from being intrigued by his exciting schematization and insight, to going, "Uh, buddy, I don't think that's right." For another, Isonomia is something of a sequel to Karatani's even more ambitious, previous work, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (Duke 2014, which is a substainally modified version of a book published originally Iwanami Shoten 2010). Well, less a sequel, and more that Isonomia was originally conceived as part of that book, but it became so long and involved it ended up becoming it's own book. I, of course, have not already read The Structure of World History (SWH), and I think if I had realized that Isonomia was based on that work, I might not have suggested we do a public blogging event. However, I have picked it up, and started reading it somewhat alongside Isonomia, and also Karatani provides a very short, and actually helpful, appendix of the theoretical argument in SWH so that you can jump into Isonomia by itself.  Okay, so Isonomia tries to answer the following question, why is it that "around the sixth century BCE, Ezekiel and the bibical prophets emerged from among exiles in Babylon; Thales emerged in Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor; Gautama Buddha and the Jain founder Mahavira appeared in India, and Laozi and Confucius emerged in China" (1)?  How can we understand this explosion of world wide philosophical thought?
So against the normal narrative of the so-called Athenian Miracle, Karatani argues correctly that there are several different, and disconnected, strands of philosophy. So, why are all these things happening at once? It's certainly not because of a single intellectual tradition, or an emergent thinker who changes everything. It is also not, as Karatani points out, "straightforwardly based on socioeconomic history" (1). Now this brings us to Karatani's appendix.
In SWH Karatani challenges Marx's model of world history as being based on modes of production (this is not from a place of hostility toward Marx. Indeed, if you know of Karatani before these works, it was almost certainly from his work Transcritique, where he tries to synthesize Marx and Kant). Instead of seeing society defined by its mode of production, Karatani believes the controlling feature of a society is its mode of exchange. Karatani points out that when we hear mode of exchange, we tend to think of a capitalist commodity exchange. However, Karatani argues there are four different modes of exchange, of which the commodity exchange is but one mode. He labels them Mode A, B, C, and D. They work out this way:
Mode A  Reciprocity by gift and countergift
Mode B  Domination and protection
Mode C  Commodity exchange
Mode D  Mode that transcends A, B, and C (135)

Yeah, I like the specificity of Mode D too. In his defense, though, it's about as a good of a definition as Marx ever gave communism. The dominate mode of exchange ends up mapping onto all sorts of other features of society, such as the political structure of society. So mode A is the nation, mode B is the state, mode C is capital, and mode D is "X (Yet to Be Realized)" (137), though in SWH he also identifies Mode D with Kant's idea of the World Republic. And here in Isonomia, Mode D is also identified with the Dao. Why? Honestly not sure. BUT! it has something to do with each mode of exchange also mapping onto different structures of religion.
So Karatani goes on to identify animism and magic with Mode A (gift giving), transcendent gods and king-priests are associated with Mode B (domination and protection), in Mode C (commodity exchange) we get "a world god that transcends the old tribal gods and tutelary deities" (4). However, none of these represent a truly universal religion. Even the world god fails, because "the god would be abandoned if the empire were to be defeated" (4). A truly universal religion would be one that, unsurprisingly, would transcend the religions of of A, B, and C. As Karatani puts it, "universal religion is an attempt to recuperate mode of exchange A at a higher level, after it has been dissolved by modes B and C" (4). In other words, mode A of gift and countergift have a principle of "reciprocity and mutual support" that gets dissolved by Modes B and C. The question is, how do we go back to that part of A, while keeping all the universal parts of B and C? How do we get the mutual support, without the tribalism and the debt bonds of A? Or as Karatani asks, how do you get the religion of A without the magical phase of A? Karatani identifies in Confucius and Laozi two different responses to the dissolving of A. Confucius wants to just go back to Mode A, but the Dao represents an attempt to understand A on a higher level.
There are several points of this long discussion of universal religion, but the most immediate one is that it seeks to do away with the religion and philosophy divide. The idea that you have on one hand religious thinkers, and on the other, rational philosophers, just isn't there. And once you get rid of the notion of the divide between philosophy and religion, so many of the philosophers are seen as prophets of example. They seek to produce a way of living that calls forth, to use a Deleuzian expression not in Karatani, a new people and a new earth.
 The prophet does not know how to talk, God puts the words in his mouth: word-ingestion, a new form of semiophagy. Unlike the seer, the prophet interprets nothing: his delusion is active rather than ideational or imaginative, his relation to God is passional and authoritative rather than despotic and signifying; he anticipates and detects the powers (puissances) of the future rather than applying past and present powers (pouvoirs). (ATP 124, emphasis in original). 

Universal religion, therefore, is a task of the philosophical project that seeks to produce Mode D of exchange. The mode that is yet to be realized. And with that, philosophy is not birthed in Athens as the foundation of the West, but rather in a global context of people responding to shifts in modes of exchange.

Further thoughts. I really like the argument against the Greek Miracle, which will be one of the central conceits of the rest of the book, and I am sure I will have more to say. But it seems odd that he ignores here, for example, Egyptian philosophy and thought, which we know was relatively advanced centuries before Plato. Joseph, who I know teaches a bit of Egyptian philosophy in his Ancient Philosophy class might have more to say here. Also, so much of what I have written is produced by assertion with very little argument or examples by Karatani, which is terribly frustrating. Hopefully as I read more of SWH I will know if he just does the arguments there, or if this is part of a broader style of writing. But, for example, when I posted the above graph on facebook a couple of weeks ago, a few people pointed out the dates for some people were, at best, idiomatic, and at worse flat out wrong. It's this sort of lack of attention to detail that bothers me for some of his boldest and biggest claims.
The next official post will be on Thursday over chapter one, and will be at AnotherPanacea. Though Joseph and Josh might respond to the intro and appendix as the spirit moves them. If they do, or I see another blog doing so, I will make a post linking to that work.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reading Group on Kojin Karatani's Isonomia

We are about to start a cross-blog reading group on Kojin Karatani most recent book, Isonomia. The first post, covering the "Appendix" and the "Introduction," will be posted this Tuesday, Oct. 10th. Then Josh will post on Chapter One at his blog, AnotherPanacea. Then Joseph will post on Chapter Two at his blog, Between Two Untruths. Chapter Three will be back at Josh's blog, then chapter Four at Joseph's, then lastly Chapter Five back here. None of us are Karatani experts, so I think we'd be happy for anyone to follow along at their blogs or on our facebook walls.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Radical Empiricists Against the Bifurcation of Nature

Over at PhilPercs, J. Edward Hackett is documenting his reading of Whitehead's Process and Reality for the first time. Hackett is a Jamesian scholar, so a lot has to do on the overlap between Whiteheadian process philosophy, and Jamesian pragmatism and radical empiricism. My own coming into studying James is a little idiosyncratic, especially for someone from the States. I started with French pluralists like Deleuze, and from there read Stengers, from Stengers I read Latour. Because of both Stengers and Latour I started reading Whitehead, and also started reading James. So I started seriously trying to read Whitehead and James at the same time. Usually the parts of Whitehead I understand, I understand because of James or Stengers. But sometimes I understand it backwards, and, one of the ways I most seriously understand James' project of radical empiricism is because of Whitehead's critique of the bifurcation of nature.

Whitehead's traditional statement of the problem of the bifurcation of nature goes like this:
For natural philosophy everything perceived is in nature. We may not pick and choose. For us the red glow of the sunset should be as much part of nature as are the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon. [...]  This means a refusal to countenance any theory of psychic additions to the object known in perception. For example, what is given in perception is the green grass. This is an object which we know as an ingredient in nature. The theory of psychic additions would treat the greenness as a psychic addition furnished by the perceiving mind, and would leave to nature merely the molecules and the radiant energy which influence the mind towards that perception. My argument is that this dragging in of the mind as making additions of its own to the thing posited for knowledge by sense-awareness is merely a way of shirking the problem of natural philosophy. That problem is to discuss the relations inter se of things known, abstracted from the bare fact that they are known. Natural philosophy should never ask, what is in the mind and what is in nature. To do so is a confession that it has failed to express relations between things perceptively known, namely to express those natural relations whose expression is natural philosophy. [...] What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream (The Concept of Nature, Ch. 2).

So what is this? It's Whitehead returning to a classic problem in empiricism. If empiricism means that experience is suppose to track reality, what do we do with the fact that sometimes there are many, or different, experiences? Locke famously tries to solve this problem by dividing things up into primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are things that inhere within the object itself, and secondary qualities are powers of the object to produce ideas (say, heat from a fire) into our minds. (For a more detailed account of the two forums of qualities, check out this article from Robert A. Wilson). Berkeley and Kant famously disagree in different ways, with Berkeley taking up the idealist position. However, Kant puts in the Prolegomena, "That I, however, even beyond these, include (for weighty reasons) also among mere appearances the remaining qualities of bodies, which are called primarias: extension, place, and more generally space along with everything that depends on it (impenetrability or materiality, shape, etc.), is something against which not the least ground of uncertainty can be raised"(40). To some degree or another, everything for Kant and Berkeley is secondary qualities. As we can see, what is at stake in the division of primary qualities and secondary qualities has become issues of objectivity and subjectivity. William James' radical empiricism ends up answering this problem in a different way.

So famously James contends that, "to be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as anything else in the system" (ERE 42, emphasis in the original). The move, to accord to relations as much reality as any other part of the system, undermines the classical subject and object dichotomy. James again, "The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the 'pure' experience. It is only
virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain,
unqualified actuality, or existence, a simple that" (ERE 23). Subject and object are not pre-given states, rather they emerge only in the particularities of relations, and are constantly in process and revisable. There relationship is merely pragmatic, rather than metaphysically predetermined. But again, relations are as real anything else, and all of this in service of undermining a a kind of dualism. As James explains, "in opposition to this dualistic philosophy, I tried, in [the first essay] to show that thoughts and things are absolutely homogeneous as to their material, and that their opposition is only one of relation and of function. There is no thought-stuff different from thing-stuff, I said; but the same identical piece of 'pure experience'" (ERE 137-138). Everything that can be experienced, for James, is primary qualities. We can now return to Whitehead, and see how the bifurcation of nature is trying to do the same work of radical empiricism. What Whitehead is concerned with is the tendency of those to who claim to be doing natural philosophy to reaffirm the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This is why we must resist any theory that depends upon psychic additions to the experience of nature. That is, we must reject the idea that thought-stuff is different from thing-stuff.  The implication of all of this, as James would say elsewhere and about other things, is "no mere speculative conundrum."
To quote (at length) from Brian Massumi:
The logic of coexistence is different from the logic of separation. The logic of belonging is different from the logic of being a part. This means that to get the whole picture (including the real, suspended ways it doesn't appear), you have to operate with both logics simultaneously: the conjunctive and the disjunctive. "Radical empiricism is fair to both the unity and the disconnection" James 1996a, 47). It translates metaphysical issues of truth and illusion, subject-object correspondence, into issues of continuity and discontinuity. [...] Things' only a priori function is of becoming. Approaching things this way saves you fussing over the cognitive status of your experience. Disbelieving, are you? Feeling a tad illusionary? Don't worry. Everything is as real as its next-effect. Just concentrate on the break and relation that will make a next-effect really felt. (Semblance and Event, 36, emphasis in the original). 
The realness of relations and the constant flux of pure experience is the answer to where novelty and creation come from. It puts the world in process, and as such means the world is constantly becoming. Such a philosophy will never give us reassurances that the world is saved, but it also gives us hope that the world is not damned, either.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sounds Good To Me: The Importance of Resonance Conferences

Over at the Daily Nous, Justin made a recent post about what he calls resonance conferences. Much of the initial post, and almost exclusively all of the comments I read, have dealt with what did or did not happen at those actual conferences. Considering I did not attend either, and am not a member of either (though I have been wanting to attend the Society for Analytic Feminism), I am going to entirely ignore those particular controversies. Instead, I want to talk about resonance conferences as a concept.

Justin defines resonance conferences as such:
Feminism and Christianity are each rather big tents, of course—big enough for lots of disagreement within them. But still, there’s some set of substantive claims associated with each, and many of the attendees at these conferences endorse a sizable subset of those respective claims (which makes those conferences a bit different from, say, a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, or a conference on causation). It would be helpful to have a name for these types of gatherings. Let’s call them resonance conferences. Resonance connotes importance and agreement, and its technical meaning involves different objects vibrating at the same frequency—works pretty well as a metaphor, I think. Do resonance conferences have a different feel to them than standard philosophy conferences, and if so, how? I suspect one difference is that disagreement feels worse at resonance conferences. In part this is because people may go in expecting, well, resonance—people let their guard down among the like-minded—and so can be caught off guard by disagreement they did not brace themselves for. At standard philosophy conferences, one goes in expecting disagreement from top to bottom. An additional part to this may be that disagreement over one particular matter may be more frustrating with a party who agrees with you on nearly everything else than with someone with whom you have few views in common. Another difference might be that attendees at resonance conferences, in virtue of being members of a shared community of sorts, take what happens at such meetings more personally than they might at standard philosophy conferences. They may feel as if they are identified with what happens or with what others say at these meetings, so when something goes wrong, they feel it reflects on them personally. In turn, this may motivate people to try to “make things right,” either by working hard to eliminate disagreement or even by engaging in a kind of public-relations damage control. (Emphasis added, paragraph breaks eliminated). 

Let's bracket for now if the opposite of the resonance conference is really a "standard" conference (are most conferences like the APA?). I want to address why I go so often to resonance conferences, and the good I get out of them, and respond to some of the implicit critiques that Justin is forwarding.

As someone who principally does work within the field of animal philosophy, I mostly go to conferences where most people will be working on animal studies, or I know that there is specific outreach to animal scholars. This is because the usual paper times at a conferences (anywhere from 15-30 minutes) does not provide a lot of time to defend and repeat first principles. So if, for example, you are wanting to expand your work on weak antinatalism in animal ethics, you can't really do this if your only feedback is objection to veganism and vegetarianism, or questioning if we have moral duties at all to animals, and the like. There are certainly times and places where all of that is fine for debate, but a lot of us work in fields were are constantly asked to begin again from first principles, which means we don't get to do the kind of iterative work, and have the kind of feedback that is useful and exciting, that most people get to do at conferences. For example, think of trying to present a paper dealing with the ethics of geoengineering the earth because of global warming, and having most, if not all, of the Q and A eaten up by questions about if global warming is real, or caused by humans, etc. Those are all objections we have to deal with in our role as educators or public intellectuals, but the ability to engage in iterative and technical philosophical argumentation would be entirely derailed if those were the objections raised virtually every time you presented a paper on global warming no matter the specific philosophical intervention. So a lot of us go to the kind of conferences were we can do work, which means having a grounding of agreeing upon certain principles or facts, so that we can debate other principles or facts.

And this is when we need to break out of the metaphor of the resonance, with it's obvious connection to objects being forced to vibrate at the same frequency, and the etymological connections to echoing. We are not hoping to meet zero objections (or any more than any other academic who slightly hopes their paper will wow everyone into immediate agreement), but we are hoping to have different kinds of disagreements. Perhaps we can think of it as fine-tuning. I go to these conferences in order to refine, and strengthen my argument, or face counterarguments I cannot usually encounter at "standard" conferences. Indeed, with the repetition of the same objections over and over again at standard conferences, and the need to repeat the same basic principles again and again, we could in a real way call those standard conferences resonance conferences. But to find new tunes? To be able to get your work to play in a new key? Well, you need to go to these fine-tuning or technical conferences. This all has nothing to do with avoiding disagreement, but with finding interesting and productive disagreement.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Ontological Pluralism in Placebo and Nocebo

Explaining the position of ontological pluralism is both remarkably easy, and absurdly hard, all at once (which, I guess, makes sense for pluralism). It's easy because I come into this through William James' radical empiricism and Whitehead's rejection of the bifurcation of nature. The simplest way to explain James' radical empiricism is to say it refuses the distinction between primary and secondary qualities that we find in Locke. If experience gives us access to reality, than all experience is real. If you experience the German industrial noise band Einstürzende Neubauten as producing melodic and inspiring music, and I experience it as so much terrible noise, than both our experiences are real. They are both true. This is not simply the case of differing opinions dancing upon the solid ground of matters of fact, but rather affirming that we can have two mutually contradictory and equally true propositions about reality.  We can see something like this affirmation of experience in Whitehead, who contends, "Process is the becoming of experience," and the "principle must be repeated: that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness" (Process and Reality, 166 and 167).

The usual objection is that ontological pluralism is simply relativism. My response to explain why it isn't really an issue of relativism is to point to the question of the placebo. The placebo, as I am sure you all know, is the thing you are given that makes you feel better or cures you, but the thing that made you feel better or cured you does not contain within itself the power that made you feel better. That is a somewhat intentionally awkward way of putting it, but the placebo is really complicated. Take a look at what Elizabeth Wilson describes in her recent book, Gut Feminism.
What the epigraph quote [Placebo (plah-se’bo) [L. “I will please”]. An inactive substance or preparation, formerly given to please or gratify a patient, now also used in controlled studies to determine the efficacy of medical substances] from The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary shows is that around 1951, as the clinical trial is materializing, the placebo is operating in two registers simultaneously: as a prescribed treatment (as outlined by Pepper), and as the no-treatment wing (the control group) of a clinical trial. This confusion, where a substance both treats and does not treat, is what I will exploit in this chapter (123). 
We'll come back to this, but this duality between treatment and no treatment will be key for us. Wilson continues:
The Shapiros argue that prior to the 1950s physicians were usually dispensing placebos, knowingly or unknowingly. If these substances had any measurable effect on the patient, this was due to the powers of suggestion (the so-called placebo effect). Here, then, is another confusion that this chapter will explore: not only do placebos seem to treat and not treat at the same time, but inert placebos also seem to be able to be activated by the forces of persuasion. If an inert substance can be brought to action by suggestion, if a nondrug can become a drug under the sway of a clinician’s care, authority, paternalism, or attention, is there not a muddle (for my purposes, an appealing muddle) between the actions of body and mind? Perhaps the drug and the nondrug (physiology and suggestion) are working the same ontological ground? A third tangle now quickly appears: if the placebo is known to be a kind of sham treatment, why did it not go the way of leeches, trephination, and lobotomy? The strangest of the turns happening around 1951 is this: placebo ends up being folded inside the technology that was allegedly developing to weaken or eradicate it. These days, one of the markers of a robustly designed clinical trial is that it includes some kind of comparison between the drug and placebo [...] To add to the confusion in the literature, sometimes placebos are chosen not because they are inert, but because they mimic the adverse effects of the drug under study (the so-called active placebo). For example, in studying antidepressants, a placebo may be used that mimics the anticholinergic effects of these drugs (e.g., increased heart rate, decreased sweating, decreased gastrointestinal mobility, impaired concentration). This means that patients and doctors are less likely to guess the group (drug or nondrug) to which the patient has been assigned, thus protecting the double-blind protocol of the study and minimizing the forces of suggestion. The convolutions intensify here: use a placebo that is experientially indistinguishable from the drug in order to delineate whether that drug modulates experience more effectively than the placebo. There is a kind of logical peculiarity in such clinical trials where drug and placebo need to be more or less the same in order that we can tell them apart. My concern is not that clinical trials are incoherent or fruitless endeavors, but that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to how their capacity to differentiate between substances requires that those substances are intimately, mutually engaged (123-125).
So that is a big chunk, but I think Wilson is getting to some of the issues of "the bastard placebo." It is not clear if a placebo is treatment or non-treatment, it is not clear if a placebo works by suggestion of the physician, or by active use of whatever is going on with the placebo, and many other issues. But from the standpoint of explaining ontological pluralism, we can simplify the argument. If you are a patient, and you are given the placebo, and the placebo works, in what way can we say that the placebo didn't make you feel better? Did that not happen in reality? Is that not true? But what if you are working to create a drug trial, there is another mode and experience of the placebo. Then, of course, we can say the placebo does not work, it does not treat. So the mode within which you are engaging the placebo matters dramatically about whether it is true, or not (an aside, mode here is my way of trying to gloss James' notion of verification). Okay, so while the placebo is perhaps a strange example to think through, it is does not tend to raise more questions about pluralism than it answers, until, we begin to think of placebo's evil goateed twin, the nocebo.

So, recently I was dragged by friends to see Werner Herzog's new movie, Lo and Behold. In this movie, Herzog gives several minutes to suffers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) These people passionately, with eyes filled by tears, describe the suffering of their sickness. They talk about living in faraday cages in the city, or living in their cars because the metal helps shield them. We meet them living in a town in the middle of Nowhere, West Virginia, because no radio waves are allowed in that area. And mostly they plead to be taken seriously. And that last plea is there because there is no scientific basis for EHS. The strong consensus of the scientific community is that EHS is an example of nocebo, or being harmed by an item that does not contain within itself the thing that harms you. But, just as the people who are made better by the placebo are made better, the people who are hurt by the nocebo are truly being harmed. They are honestly suffering. However, if you look online, you will find articles that engage in various forms of mockery of people suffering from EHS (this Wired article, for example, puts the word victims in scare quotes). I don't know what to do for people who suffer from EHS, or what it means to share a globally connected world with this roughly 1-3 percent of the population that suffers from EHS. It does strike me, however, that telling people to just get over it, or that it is "merely" in their heads is both absurd, and almost certainly cruel.

The problem with pluralism, but also its strength, is that we can no longer simply proceed as if we have the truth on our side. The model of politics, but also of the good life, that sees us as subjects of truth events that we then militate on behalf of is no longer really compelling from a position of ontological pluralism. What is instead the project of pluralism is building ways to cohabit this earth together. When Deleuze raises the figure of mediators, or Stengers the idea of the diplomat, or Boaventura de Sousa Santos propose the project of translation, they are all differently refusing the model of the militant spreading their truth, and instead presenting figures who are engaged in projects of negotiation, collaboration, revision, and persuasion. Ontological pluralism is a struggle because it is the opposite of relativism and liberal tolerance, and instead the "production of novel togetherness" where we are "drops of experience, complex and interdependent" (Whitehead, PR, 21 and 18).

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Against Grief Shaming: Hume and the making of sympathy

So, recently 323 reindeer died by lightening in Norway. Maybe you, like me, saw this on your social media feeds. I had several friends who are not into animal activism obviously sadden by this mass death of reindeer. But of course, certain people in animal rights circles immediately pointed out how hypocritical it was to mourn for these reindeer, but not be bothered by the deer who routinely hunted and killed here. The usual cited number is about six million white tailed deer are killed by hunters annually in the United States. So if you are sad about 323 reindeer dying, you should be devastated by the millions of deer killed every year. This isn't just about reindeer, either. Bigger examples occured after the killing of Cecil the Lion and Harambe the Gorilla. In each case we have large number of people who are not concerned about animal rights issues, suddenly being outraged or sadden by the deaths of these animals. Part of this, of course, is simply the issue of charismatic megafauna (and Jamie Lorimer's work here is canonical for good reason). But I want to focus on tendency to engage in a kind of grief shaming that certain parts of the animal rights community tries to push. While I have focused in the past on how mourning other animals is denied and unrealized in our present world, I want to briefly turn our attention to this inversion in which certain animal activists say that the selective mourning of animals is illegitimate. I am both very sympathetic to this claim, but I want us to think of trying to move in a different direction.

In order to rethink what is going on with the selective mourning of other animals, I want us to quickly think about the early modern thought experiment of the state of nature. So, if you remember your Hobbes and your Locke, the problem with the state of nature is that everyone could kill each other, or could steal from each other, and there could therefore exist no security or trust. So we engage in a social contract, where we cede part of our freedom (like my freedom to kill and steal) to the civil society or the sovereign. By ceding those bits of our freedom, we get security and trust. Now, Hume found this argument kind of strange. After all, we are born as atomistic individuals like you think reading Hobbes and Locke, but rather we are born into families. And however messed up those families were, we mostly had security and trust within them. For Hume, this changes the political and ethical project. It is no longer how do we cede part of our freedom for the social contract, but rather, how do we overcome the "inequality of affections"? To put it another way, the issue is not we are too ego-bound, but that our sympathies are too limited, too partial, too tribal. The political question is no longer how to limit the egotistic individual, the political question is how to create and build the institutions that can extend our sympathies. As Deleuze glosses in Empiricism and Subjectivity:
In this sense, the idea that Hume forms of society is very strong. He presents us with a critique of the social contract which not only the utilitarians but also the majority of the jurists opposed to “natural law” would have to take up again. The main idea is this: the essence of society is not the law but rather the institution. The law, in fact, is a limitation of enterprise and action, and it focuses only on a negative aspect of society. The fault of contractual theories is that they present us with a society whose essence is the law, that is, with a society which has no other objective than to guarantee certain preexisting natural rights and no other origin than the contract. Thus, anything positive is taken away from the social, and instead the social is saddled with negativity, limitation, and alienation. The entire Humean critique of the state of nature, natural rights, and the social contract, amounts to the suggestion that the problem must be reversed. The law cannot, by itself, be the source of obligation, because legal obligation presupposes utility. Society cannot guarantee preexisting rights: if people enter society, it is precisely because they do not have preexisting rights. We see clearly in the theory of promise which Hume proposes how utility becomes a principle opposed to the contract. Where is the fundamental difference? Utility is on the side of the institution. The institution, unlike the law, is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, an invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means. This understanding of the institution effectively reverses the problem: outside of the social there lies the negative, the lack, or the need. The social is profoundly creative, inventive, and positive. (45-46)
This means that the issues of grief over reindeer and named lions and gorillas is a classical Humean problem, that people's sympathies are too partial. I worry that pointing out hypocrisy is a way of telling people to have less sympathy. I do not clearly understand how to build the institutions to extend people's sympathies, but we have to remember when we engage, to engage at that level. This project, therefore, should be seen as a kind of extension of the work of feminist ethics of care when it comes to animals (and here I would plug Lori Gruen's relatively recent book, Entangled Empathy, as an essential way of looking as what a project of empathy looks like with other animals and humans).

Ultimately, the issue is not that some people are hypocrites, or engage in "moral schizophrenia." The issue is that they are engaged in the same sort of partial sympathies that we all engage in one form or another. We all have times we engage in an inequality of affections that keep us from extending the moral community to where it should be. So, the project is one of building institutions (not just political, but also aesthetic and ethical, that is to say, cultural and affective) to extend our sympathies. What are the institutions, practices, and artifices we can create to overcome these limitations? What are the affects and the abstractions, the precepts and the concepts, we can multiply and circulate? How do we create a matrix that allows us to change and transform the vectors of desire? These are questions about what beings we are to become, what worlds we are to make.